EPA’s Groundwater Remedy Completion Strategy: Making Cleanups More Efficient Or Just Increasing PRP Costs?

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Last week, EPA released a draft Groundwater Remedy Completion Strategy.  The strategy is intended to provide:

a recommended step-wise plan and decision making process for evaluating remedy operation, progress and attainment of [remedial action objectives] using an updated conceptual site model, performance metrics and data derived from site-specific remedy evaluations.

I like to think that I am skeptical, not cynical.  Having worked on this stuff for 25 years, including some specific Superfund sites for most of that time, I’m skeptical that this means anything other than increased sampling and analytical costs and increased oversight costs, as my clients and I are forced to attend meetings which which include not only the EPA project manager, but also three groundwater experts from the EPA regional office, another 3 or 4 experts at EPA’s outside technical consultant, and yet another 3 or 4 experts at EPA’s Ada, Oklahoma, groundwater research center.  When I hear that we’re going to be updating the conceptual site model, and developing performance metrics and collecting monitoring data, and I realize that the PRPs already do this at literally every Superfund site of which I am aware, I wonder what impact this guidance document can possibly have, other than to mean more of the same.

And don’t get me started on guidance documents.  This is a classic case of guidance layered upon guidance, layered upon regulations.  In fact, the disclaimer notes that the guidance not only does not supersede regulations – which it of course could not legally do – it also does not supersede existing guidance.  It just provides guidance on how efficiently to implement the existing guidance, I suppose.  If up-front thinking about how to reach an endpoint on groundwater cleanup is so valuable, why is it merely guidance?  Why wouldn’t it be part of the NCP?  Why did it take 30 years for this to occur to EPA?

I love Superfund.