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Climate Change Adaptation

Remedies to address contaminated sites may be vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. EPA's Superfund Program has developed an approach that raises awareness of the vulnerabilities and applies climate change science as a standard business practice in site cleanup projects. To date, the approach has involved screening of Superfund remedy vulnerabilities on a national basis, prioritizing the Agency's adaptation efforts at Superfund sites, and identifying adaptation measures that may be taken to increase a remedy's resilience to climate change. EPA is publishing this webpage as a means of disseminating useful information regarding approaches for adapting to climate change. This information does not impose legally binding requirements on EPA, states, tribes or the regulated community and does not alter or supersede existing policy or guidance for contaminated site cleanup. EPA, federal, state, tribal and local decision-makers retain discretion to implement approaches on a case-by-case basis.

Background Information

EPA’s first policy statement (PDF) (3 pp, 1 MB, About PDF) on climate change adaptation, which was issued in June 2011, recognized that climate change can pose significant challenges to the Agency's ability to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment. It called for the Agency to develop a plan for addressing future climate changes and to incorporate climate change considerations into EPA's activities. The policy also required every national-program and regional office to develop an implementation plan providing details on how it will carry out the work outlined in an Agency-wide plan.

In February 2013, EPA released its Agency-wide draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PDF) (55 pp, 767 KB, About PDF) for public comment. EPA's Superfund Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan is integrated in the June 2013 draft Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan (PDF) (41 pp, 1.2 MB, About PDF). Adaptation concerning contaminated site cleanup is also addressed in adaptation implementation plans developed by EPA regional offices.

Climate Change Impacts
Temperature:
  • Increased occurrence of extreme temperatures
  • Sustained changes in average temperatures
  • Decreased permafrost
Wildfires:
  • Increased frequency & intensity
Precipitation:
  • Increased heavy precipitation events
  • Increased flood risk
  • Decreased precipitation & increasing drought
  • Increased landslides

Sea level rise

Wind:
  • Increased intensity of hurricanes
  • Increased intensity of tornados
  • Increased storm surge intensity

Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Climate Change Adaptation Plan (draft) (PDF) (41 pp, 1.2 MB, About PDF),
Appendix A (adaptation)

The Agency's focus on climate adaptation is part of the larger federal effort to increase the nation's adaptive capacity and promote a healthy and prosperous nation that is resilient to a changing climate. In June 2013, the President announced his plan (PDF) (21 pp, 318 KB, About PDF) to cut carbon pollution and prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change. Broader federal actions to enhance climate preparedness and resilience in the United States are outlined in the November 2013, Executive Order 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change (PDF) (8 pp, 333 KB, About PDF).

Planning Tools

Climate Change Adaptation Technical Fact Sheets: EPA has released two fact sheets designed to help project managers and other cleanup stakeholders identify, prioritize, and implement site-specific measures for increasing remedy resilience to climate change impacts

Access related websites, interactive tools, and other information sources for climate change adaptation planning.

Climate Change Impacts on the Superfund Program

EPA conducted a screening analysis to evaluate the extent to which the vulnerabilities may affect soil, sediment, or groundwater remedies involving technologies such as soil vapor extraction, bioremediation, permeable reactive barriers, and pump-and-treat (P&T) systems or involving strategies such as monitored natural attenuation or ex situ containment. The analysis included plotting Superfund sites located near or within 100-year and 500-year floodplains and Superfund sites situated within a 1-meter sea level rise zone. Results indicated that cleanup projects involving P&T technology for groundwater remediation and/or onsite systems for contaminant source containment may experience significant vulnerability to climate change due to their frequent use, general design components, and often lengthy durations.

Climate Change Adaptation within the Superfund Program

EPA's Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, which manages the Superfund Program, is collaborating with other national program offices to implement the climate change adaptation plan proposed by the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Adaptation plans specific to the Superfund Program involve the following key actions:

  1. Develop criteria to identify the types of remedies for which performance may be affected by climate change
  2. Develop a protocol for evaluating and ensuring remedy protectiveness on a site-specific basis
  3. Produce adaptation fact sheets specific to the types of remediation systems most likely to be affected by climate change, to help project decision-makers identify potential system vulnerabilities and adaptation measures
  4. Identify existing Superfund Program processes (such as remedial investigations/feasibility studies, records of decision, remedial designs/remedial actions, and five-year reviews) in which climate change adaptation measures may be integrated to ensure continuing protectiveness of current and future remedies
  5. Develop and implement in-person and Web-based training to help EPA regional staff, cleanup contractors, and other stakeholders plan and implement remedies that are resilient to weather and climate changes
  6. Exchange updated information and learned lessons with EPA's regional offices to foster application of climate change science as a standard EPA business practice.
Site-Specific Resilience

Climate change adaptation and remedy resilience at three National Priorities List sites are highlighted in the May issue of EPA's Technology News and Trends Exit disclaimer newsletter. Access the issue to learn about measures taken at the American Cyanamid site in New Jersey, Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado, and Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Rhode Island.

Efforts to safeguard Superfund site remedies and otherwise adapt to climate change also need to be continuously coupled with mitigative actions to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and preserve natural resources most vulnerable to climate change. Application of green remediationExit disclaimer strategies that reduce the environmental footprint of cleanup activities may help mitigate GHG emissions that contribute to climate change.

Strategies for climate change adaptation management within the Superfund Program may apply to existing or planned remediation systems. The strategies also may be applied to site cleanups conducted under other regulatory programs or through voluntary efforts to increase remedy resilience to the potential impacts of climate change. Manners for implementing the strategies must remain consistent with existing regulatory requirements for site cleanup, including those under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; and the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act.

Key terms are defined in EPA's Glossary of Climate Change Terms:

The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.
Vulnerability:
A capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to social well-being, the economy, and the environment.
Resilience:
Adjustment or preparation of human systems to a new or changing environment which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.
Adaptation:

The Superfund Program has compiled descriptions and web links for online information sources to help plan and implement climate change adaption strategies at sites undergoing cleanup. The compilation includes brief descriptions of engineered structures commonly used in adaptation measures.

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