Annual Progress Report, 2013
Promoting Land Reuse for Renewable Energy
EPA and the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have provided new tools to identify prime sites for development.
The federal government continues to encourage the growth of renewable energy, as underscored by President Barack Obama's visit to the Copper Mountain Solar 1 facility in Boulder City, Nev., in March 2012 (above).
EPA and NREL have recently released two tools that help developers, communities, local governments and landowners site projects that can help revitalize degraded areas and reduce pressure on developing valuable agricultural and pristine natural lands.
The California Renewable Energy Siting Tool is designed to identify potential sites for utility-scale renewable energy development. It's a mapping tool and dataset that uses California Department of Toxic Substances Control data on contaminated and degraded land across the state with information key to the compatibility of sites for renewable energy. EPA has already used the tool to identify 75 potential sites in California.
The Solar and Wind Decision Trees can be used for more in-depth evaluation of the viability of installing solar or wind energy at sites large and small. Developed under EPA's RE-Powering America's Land Initiative, the decision trees include a detailed set of technical and economic criteria and other influential factors, enabling stakeholders to focus attention and funding on sites that meet the criteria.
Targeted sites include potentially contaminated land, landfills, underutilized rooftops and parking lots, and abandoned parcels.
Cleaning Up Industrial Sites
EPA's Superfund Program cleans up the nation's most contaminated sites. A recent cleanup in Oakland, Calif., utilized ground-up fish bones. At Nevada's Rio Tinto Mine, work is just starting.
Near Oakland's AMCO Superfund site, a former chemical distribution business, EPA found lead contamination in the yards of eight homes on the same block. In 2007, EPA excavated and removed the contaminated soil. In 2009, however, lead contamination was found in the soil of five adjacent blocks with 151 homes.
Looking for the least disruptive remedy, EPA found that phosphate reacts with lead to form pyromorphite, which is not easily absorbed by the human body. Under EPA's direction, contractors brought in tons of phosphate-rich fish bones ground into powder – a waste product from Alaska canneries – to be rototilled into the soil of neighborhood yards.
This innovative method helped minimize impacts to local residents, and EPA engaged community members and local businesses as part of its cleanup effort.
The project was a model of sustainability, using electric and biodiesel vehicles and equipment, solar power for on-site offices, reclaimed water, native plants and recycled landscape material.
Several abandoned mines in the Pacific Southwest are Superfund sites because they pose health threats to people, fish and wildlife. In 2012, four companies agreed to pay a total of $25 million to clean up an abandoned copper mine in northeastern Nevada.
In the agreement currently under court review, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection would oversee cleanup of the Rio Tinto Mine with input from EPA and the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley. The companies, successors to the mine operators, agreed to remove mine tailings from Mill Creek, restore it to support native redband trout, and improve water quality in the East Fork Owyhee River.
Focus on the San Joaquin Valley
EPA oversees cleanup work at 14 Superfund sites in the valley, helps local governments assess brownfields to hasten redevelopment, and inspects pesticide facilities to prevent spills.
The city of Visalia used an EPA Brownfields Community-Wide Assessment grant to target rundown properties for revitalization. In one case, a roofing business in an old, dilapidated building was moving to smaller quarters. The assessment showed that no cleanup was necessary, clearing the way for redevelopment.
The Family HealthCare Network, Tulare County's largest non-profit health care provider for low-income clients, bought the property. They razed the old structure and will begin to build a new medical-dental building with 44 exam rooms and 12 dental rooms that will allow the clinic to serve 4,500 more people.
In West Fresno, EPA and partners Fresno Youth Council for Sustainable Development and Center for Creative Land Recycling completed a plan for an urban garden near Edison High School. Students there were involved in choosing the site and planning the garden. Next, EPA will conduct a brownfields assessment of the site and make recommendations to ensure it's clean enough to grow crops.
West Fresno, which is separated from downtown Fresno by Highway 99, is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Its 35,000 residents, mostly low-income and minority, live alongside both agricultural and industrial operations.
In the town of Malaga, a former oil recycling and refining site left behind extensive soil and groundwater contamination. Cleanup at the Purity Oil site included groundwater extraction and treatment as well as actions to neutralize and cap contaminated soils.
In 2007 the cap was completed, and by 2010, a soil vapor extraction system was removing the remaining soil contamination. By 2012, EPA found that soil and groundwater contamination had fallen to very low levels and will continue to drop through natural processes as groundwater monitoring continues.
Pesticide producers store pesticides in tanks and containers that can hold more than 500 gallons. A new federal regulation took effect recently requiring containment around these tanks, so that spills won't flow onto streets or reach soil and groundwater.
EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation are collaborating to inspect pesticide production facilities throughout the San Joaquin Valley to ensure compliance with the containment rule.