EPA Issues Guidance for Environmental Cleanups During COVID-19 Pandemic

EPA Issues Guidance for Environmental Cleanups During COVID-19 Pandemic

April 13, 2020

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional offices will implement interim decision-making criteria at new or ongoing cleanup activities across the country that prioritize health and safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The agency announced new guidance covering emergency response and longer term cleanups where EPA is the lead agency or has direct oversight at Superfund cleanups, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective actions, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) cleanups, Oil Pollution Act spill responses, and Underground Storage Tank (UST) program actions. EPA invites states to consider the guidance as they encounter similar issues at state-lead RCRA cleanup sites.

EPA will decide case-by-case whether to continue, reduce, or pause onsite activities based on these priorities:

  • Protecting the health and safety of the public, as well as maintaining the health and safety of EPA staff and cleanup partners in coordination with federal, state, tribal, or local health authorities
  • Maintaining EPA’s ability to prevent and respond to environmental emergencies

EPA will apply the same criteria to requests from outside parties engaged in cleanup and response for extensions or delays in performance in accordance with any existing agreements or enforcement instruments.

The interim guidance directs EPA regional offices to:

  • Considering site-specific factors when deciding on whether response actions will continue or be reduced, paused or resumed: Consideration of these factors will help the Agency make nationally consistent decisions when addressing similar factual situations at sites. For example, regional management will consider whether failure to continue response actions would likely pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health or the environment, and whether it is practical to continue such actions.
  • Applying Applicable Enforcement Instruments: Decisions to extend obligations or pause work obligations will be made in accordance with applicable enforcement instruments. These enforcement instruments may contain provisions allowing for adjustments to schedules to be made at the discretion of EPA’s project manager, and/or force majeure provisions, generally including directions to responsible parties on providing the requisite notice and other information to EPA related to a requested extension.
  • Conducting Non-Field Site Work: Because much of the work to advance cleanup of sites is performed away from sites, to the extent possible, this work will continue. This includes important work that can be conducted virtually such as investigation reports (including pre-NPL work), modeling, negotiations between the parties, decision documents, cleanup documentation, workplans, progress reports, and maintaining compliance with obligations such as financial assurance.
  • Planning for Next Steps After Pausing Site Work: If a decision is made to temporarily reduce or suspend field work, Regions will continue to monitor site conditions and plan the logistics for resuming field work as soon as possible when appropriate.

EPA wants Superfund site teams to cancel or postpone in-person public meeting events, door-to-door visits, and other site-related face to face interactions to be consistent with current COVID-19 guidance from the CDC and other federal, state, tribal and local officials. The Agency News Release stated, "We fully encourage EPA staff to keep in contact with affected communities using virtual and other communication tools such as on-line meetings, webinars, conference calls, and call-in numbers, as well as fact sheets, postcards, phone, and social media."



EPA News Release 
EPA Takes Action to Guide Health and Safety Decisions at Cleanup Sites During the COVID-19 Pandemic | April 10, 2020

Interim Guidance Memorandum
MEMORANDUM | FROM: Peter C. Wright, Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management and Susan Parker Bodine, Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance TO: EPA Regional Administrators, Regions I-X | April 10, 2020

OLEM Considerations and Posture for COVID-19 Pandemic
Office of Land and Emergency Management Considerations and Posture for COVID-19 Pandemic | March 19, 2020