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Frequent Questions

  1. What is the National Remedy Review Board?
  2. Which sites will the Board review?
  3. Can Regions Request an optional early consultation?
  4. Can Regions Request an exemption from Board review?
  5. Will the Board review sites with Record of Decision amendments or Explanation of Significant Differences?
  6. Will the Board review sites with final Record of Decision following an interim Record of Decision?
  7. Will the Board review proposed sediment actions that are also subject to Headquarters consultation or Contaminated Sediments Technical Advisory Group review?
  8. How long does a typical Board review take?
  9. Are Board discussions open to the general public?
  10. How do states and tribal governments participate in the reviews?
  11. What is the role of contractors?
  12. When is it appropriate to release Board memoranda and meeting support materials?
  13. Where can I find information about other Board reviews?

1. What is the National Remedy Review Board?

In October 1995, the EPA Administrator announced a collection of initiatives designed to help control remedy costs and to promote consistent and cost-effective Superfund cleanup decisions. As one of these initiatives, the National Remedy Review Board (NRRB, the Board) reviews proposed high-cost cleanup decisions to help evaluate whether they are consistent with current law, regulations, and Agency policy and guidance.

The Board is a technical and policy review group made up of members that have experience with both regional and Headquarters perspectives in the Superfund remedy selection process. Its members include senior managers and technical experts from each EPA region, as well as senior technical and policy experts from other EPA offices. These include the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation (OSRTI), Office of Research and Development, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, Federal Facilities Restoration and Reuse Office (FFRRO), Office of Site Remediation Enforcement, and Office of General Counsel. The Board is chaired by OSRTI. The Board generally meets quarterly to review proposed decisions that meet its cost-based review criteria. The product of the review is a memorandum sent from the Board to the regional Superfund division director that documents Board recommendations about the proposed cleanup strategy. The Board review process allows full input from EPA regional site managers and other site team members as deemed appropriate by the region whose site is under review. EPA's site managers are asked to participate in all deliberations to ensure that the Board fully understands the circumstances influencing their proposals.

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2. Which sites will the Board review?

Typically, the Board reviews cleanup strategies after the remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) and before the region releases the proposed plan for comment. If necessary, the Board may review sites at other phases of cleanup, possibly before the FS is completed. The Board tries to accommodate regional preferences for scheduling reviews; however, it may not be able to meet all desired regional schedules. It is therefore imperative that site managers work closely with their Board representatives and regional management to schedule sites for review as soon as cost estimates trigger the review criteria outlined below.

Both National Priorities List (NPL) and non-NPL (e.g., "Superfund Alternative") site actions are reviewed by the Board whenever the Agency expects the work to be done under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), in accordance with the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) and other relevant guidance, and when the general criteria are met. The Board reviews sites when EPA is directly responsible for the decision or has a concurrence role, including PRP-lead, special account-funded and federal facility-lead sites.

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3. Can Regions Request an optional early consultation?

Regions may request an optional NRRB consultation on remedial alternatives at the draft FS scoping stage or any time prior to the draft proposed plan. Regions will not be expected to respond to this early review. Regions should notify states, tribes, local governments, PRPs and local communities when a site will be the subject of an early consultation. Stakeholder, including PRPs, input (up to 10 pages) should be requested as part of the early consultation process. This optional consultation will not excuse a site from NRRB review at the proposed plan stage if the proposed remedial action meets the NRRB review criteria.

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4. Can Regions Request an exemption from Board review?

Regions may request that the NRRB Chair exempt their eligible site from Board review. In addition, Regions can request an exemption in cases where the Region selects a different alternative (after the release of the Proposed Plan for public comment) which costs more than 20 percent from the original proposal and these costs trigger review. The OSRTI office director will make the final exemption decision. The Regional Division Directors can appeal a decision to deny an exemption to the OSRTI Office Director. Regions should offer states, tribes, local governments, PRPs and local communities an opportunity to summarize in writing their opinion regarding the proposed exemption decision. This information will be forwarded to the Chair along with the exemption request. Regions will not be expected to respond to these letters but will notify the commenters of the final decision regarding an exemption.

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5. Will the Board review sites with Record of Decision amendments or Explanation of Significant Differences?

Generally, the Board reviews proposed Record of Decision (ROD) amendments where there is a change from the original remedial strategy (e.g., moving from a containment remedy to a treatment remedy) that results in remedial action costs greater than $25 million.

Generally, the Board does not review ROD amendments where the:

  • Original remedial strategy remains the same (e.g., where the cost increase results from an unexpected increase in contaminated soil volume), even if there is an appreciable change in cost (however, the region should consult with their board representative to confirm review criteria) or
  • Amendment results in a cost savings.

The Board usually does not review Explanation of Significant Differences unless the region believes the site would benefit from such a review.

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6. Will the Board review sites with final Record of Decision following an interim Record of Decision?

Generally, the Board will review final RODs that follow an interim ROD where there are new significant capital costs in addition to the incremental operation and maintenance (O&M) costs associated with the final ROD. When the costs of a planned final ROD (following an interim ROD) exceed the trigger criteria due to costs driven primarily by the interim remedy's O&M (e.g., the plant is already constructed and the remaining costs are due to long term system operation), the site does not require Board review. In lieu of a Board review, the region should conduct an optimization review, consistent with EPA guidance, before the final remedy is selected. Information on remedy optimization may be found at this link: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/cleanup/postconstruction/optimize.htm

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7. Will the Board review proposed sediment actions that are also subject to Headquarters consultation or Contaminated Sediments Technical Advisory Group review under Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Directive 9285.6-08, Principles for Managing Contaminated Sediment Risks at Hazardous Waste Sites?

Yes. As explained in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) Directive 9285.6-11, OSRTI Sediment Team and NRRB Coordination at Large Sediment Sites [PDF 116KB, 3 pages], issued on March 5, 2004, review of consultation memos by the OSRTI Sediment Team (for Tier 1 sites) and by the Contaminated Sediment Technical Advisory Group (CSTAG) will be coordinated with the Board so that the region receives only one set of comments at the time of the proposed plan. This process is explained in more detail below

Tier 1 Sites

     For Tier 1 sites that will undergo an NRRB review, the region should include a draft Tier 1 Consideration Memo in the site information package sent to the Board. A copy of the Consideration Memo should also be sent to the appropriate OSRTI regional coordinator and to the OSRTI Sediment Team leader. The OSRTI Sediment Team will review the Consideration Memo and the site package, and will provide comments to the chair of the NRRB prior to the Board's meeting on the site in question. If the draft proposed plan is available, it should also be submitted to the OSRTI regional coordinator and the Sediment Team Leader at that time. If it is not available, it should be submitted as soon as it is drafted. The Sediment Team will not submit separate comments on the Consideration Memo to the region.

     As part of its response to the NRRB recommendations, the region should include a revised Tier 1 Consideration Memo that addresses any comments made by the NRRB related to the issues covered by the Memo. If the NRRB chair and OSRTI Sediment Team leader believe that their comments were not appropriately addressed, and after consultation with the OSRTI Regional Branch Chief, the region may be asked to make additional revisions to the Consideration Memo.

Contaminated Sediments Technical Advisory Group Sites

     It is anticipated that the proposed remedy for most of the large sites being reviewed by the CSTAG will also meet the NRRB review requirements. Therefore, a subset of CSTAG members will participate in the NRRB review. This subset will be selected based on expertise matching the site characteristics. When a site manager prepares the site package for the NRRB it should include a draft Tier 2 Consideration Memo. The memo should document how the region considered all 11 principles when selecting the site's proposed remedy; the memo should normally be less than 20 pages in length. The site manager will be provided with one set of recommendations from this joint review.

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8. How long does a typical Board review take?

Generally, the review process takes about eight weeks, from the time the Board receives the informational site package until it transmits its recommendations to the region. Regions should consider this additional time in developing the site work plan and Superfund Comprehensive Accomplishment Plan targets. However, regions should also be aware that, in a few cases, Board recommendations may delay site decisions while the regional decision makers consider and respond to Board findings. Also, the region should allow adequate time for preparation of a comprehensive site package. The average preparation time is generally one to two months.

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9. Are Board discussions open to the general public?

No. The meetings of the Board are pre-decisional, deliberative discussions and are not open to the general public. Reviews generally occur before the region issues the proposed plan. The Agency is generally at an early stage in its decision making process when the Board meets to discuss the proposed action. The intent of this early Board review is to offer a critical discussion on key remedy selection and cost effectiveness issues before the Agency formalizes its position on a preferred cleanup strategy. It is important to note that the Board process does not affect EPA's current procedures for soliciting public comment on proposed cleanup plans.

The recommendations memo will be posted on the Board's web page within 30 days of the Chair's signature. The Board's web page will also provide a link to the Superfund Site Progress Profile that will provide links to decision documents and the administrative record. PRP and stakeholder position papers should be included in the administrative record.

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10. How do states and tribal governments participate in the reviews?

For each site, the site manager should invite state and appropriate tribal representatives to participate in the information-gathering phase of the Board meeting. Typically, these representatives do not participate in the deliberative discussion, which the Board normally limits to EPA personnel; however, they may be invited to participate for a portion of the deliberations where the site is a state/tribe-lead fund-financed decision or state/tribe-lead enforcement decision where the state or tribe seeks EPA concurrence. Otherwise, the Board generally limits its deliberative discussion to Agency personnel.

Regional staff should contact the state or tribal representative early in planning for the Board meeting to discuss the background and purpose of the Board, the structure of the reviews, and to explain how the state/tribe might best prepare for the meeting. At the meeting, the state/tribe is usually offered approximately 10-15 minutes to speak about their specific issues or concerns.

The region should also offer the state or tribal representatives an opportunity to summarize in writing, 20 pages or less (up to 40 pages may be submitted for sites where the estimated remedial action costs exceed $100M ), any technical issues they believe are pertinent to the cleanup decision, including their rationale and recommended approach for site cleanup. The site manager should attach this summary to the site information package submitted to the Board four weeks before the meeting. Stakeholder position papers should be included in the administrative record.

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11. What is the role of contractors?

Generally, government contractors can help prepare presentation and package materials but do not participate in presentations or question and answer sessions at board meetings.

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12. When is it appropriate to release Board memoranda and meeting support materials?

The Agency considers the site-specific Board discussion materials, site names, and operable units under consideration to be deliberative and, where appropriate, enforcement confidential. EPA staff should refer questions regarding the nature of the Board discussions and findings to the appropriate regional board member or site manager.

The product of a Board review is typically a memorandum from the Board Chair to the appropriate regional division director. While the Agency strives to be as open as possible about Board reviews, in some cases it may be appropriate for the region to withhold the Board's recommendations memorandum until the region issues the proposed plan. At that point, the region should place the memorandum in the appropriate site administrative record. The region may release publicly its response to Board recommendations at its discretion, taking into account the internal, deliberative nature of the NRRB process. EPA will post the recommendations memo to the Board's web page within 30 days of the Chair's signature. EPA expects that regions will make the regional response available publicly as soon as it is reasonable and appropriate to do so. EPA will also post the regional response on the Board's web page.

In addition, the NRRB web page will provide the internet link to the Superfund Site Progress Profile that links to the site decision documents and administrative records containing stakeholder and PRP position papers.

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13. Where can I find information about other Board reviews?

Site managers are encouraged to visit the NRRB internet site at http://www.epa.gov/superfund/programs/nrrb/index.htm. This publicly accessible site contains basic information about the NRRB and its formation, criteria that triggers NRRB review, contact information for board members, site-specific review memoranda, and regional responses to board recommendations.

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