Two of the most common types of site remediations involve the cleanup of underground storage tanks (USTs) and installation of covers for landfills. Property owners responsible for remediations at these sites and contractors retained to perform the work are learning that it may no longer be enough to ensure that the project is completed according to environmental legal requirements.
Pressure is increasing to conduct the work in ways that protect the environment, conserve energy and resources, and reuse materials. This approach to cleanups has acquired the informal name of green remediation.
Given the large number of UST and landfill remediation projects, U.S. EPA, state environmental agencies, and collaborative entities such as the Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council (ITRC) have been spreading information about best management practices (BMP) that can help project managers and other stakeholders implement green remediations while achieving cleanup objectives, ensuring protectiveness of a remedy, and improving the environmental outcome.
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Find these BMPs on EPA’s Green Remediation Focus page.
Let’s Talk Cost $$$
It is simple and inexpensive to incorporate some types of green BMPs into a site cleanup. A BMP can be as basic as reducing the idling of earthmoving equipment to cut down on air emissions or disturbing as small an area of land as possible to maximize soil carbon retention. Whether those actions alone will qualify a cleanup as a green remediation is debatable.
On the other hand, the gold standard of green remediations, at least at landfills, involves the capture and use of landfill gas (LFG) such as methane to power onsite equipment. Such an approach prevents the atmospheric release of methane, a powerful GHG, or combustion of methane through flaring and also eliminates or reduces the need for nonrenewable fuel. But setting up a LFG recovery system to generate onsite electricity or to otherwise use LFG as fuel is a costly proposition. While savings on electricity purchases will certainly be realized, savings in overall project costs may not. A decision may hinge on the quality and amount of landfill gas and how long onsite power can be generated and useful; for example, the need for power for long-term treatment, monitoring, and communication systems may make a good business case for LFG recovery.
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Beyond the Financial Payoff
Of course saving money on the remediation itself may not be the only basis for choosing to embark on a green remediation. Here’s an example–restoring a landfill site with types of native vegetation that store water (thus preventing water from infiltrating into the landfill itself) will remove some environmental risk from the property and enhance its value for future use. Also, when properly designed, landfill covers can provide opportunities to host economic enterprises such as power production from solar and wind resources. Contractors in certain areas where sustainability is highly valued may also benefit from offering a range of green remediation services.
Regulators are primarily interested in ensuring that cleanups are consistent with existing laws and regulations. But, from a purely practical perspective, EPA and many state regulatory agencies that oversee cleanups will look favorably on implementation of sustainable cleanups. This may serve to expedite permitting and, in general, keep the project moving forward. EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) recommends that decisions on which types of green remediation BMPs may be employed be made early in the project during the environmental footprint assessment. According to OSWER such assessments may address the following five elements:
- Total energy use and renewable energy
- Air pollutants and GHG emissions
- Water use and impacts to water resources
- Materials management and waste reduction
- Land management and ecosystems protection
See tomorrow’s Advisor for a deeper look at some of these BMPs for green remediations at UST properties and landfills.