superfund

Compelling Journeys, New Opportunities: 15 Years of Superfund Redevelopment

By Jim Woolford

In 1996, Jonathon Harr wrote A Civil Action, a book highlighting two hundred years of poor industrial practices that led to contamination at the Wells G & H Superfund site in Woburn, MA. Three years after Harr’s publication, our Superfund program – the federal program established to address uncontrolled hazardous waste sites – embarked on a new initiative, the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (SRI). This program takes formerly contaminated land and puts it back into productive use. The Wells G&H site, along with the nearby Industri-Plex site, are both being addressed through Superfund cleanup and SRI actions.

Last summer I visited these two sites to see firsthand the positive outcome Superfund is bringing to the area. Through ongoing Superfund cleanup and site redevelopment activities, the Wells G&H and Industri-Plex sites are undergoing a renewal, bringing back land once seemingly lost forever to the poor industrial practices of past generations.

Since its inception 15 years ago, SRI has helped more than 700 communities reclaim and reuse thousands of acres of formerly contaminated land. In the case of the Wells G&H and Industri-Plex sites, they went from community eyesores to a regional transportation center, a designated green space and wetlands area, and an ice rink and retail sector, among other uses.

During my visit, I met Woburn’s Mayor, Scott Galvin, who praised the role SRI played in revitalizing the area. Local governments have been critical to SRI’s success at creating jobs, enhancing local property tax bases, and improving communities’ overall well-being. We estimate, based on 2013 data at more than 370 sites with some kind of reuse occurring, approximately 2,240 businesses were operating and generating annual sales of $32.6 billion and employing more than 70,000 people earning a combined income of $4.9 billion.

My trip to Woburn allowed me to reflect on SRI’s work to support Superfund communities’ transformative journeys. There are hundreds of Superfund sites with significant redevelopment potential. It’s exciting that two of the earliest designated Superfund sites, Industri-Plex and Wells G&H, are coming full circle from idle, blighted land to critical community assets.

About the author: Jim Woolford is the director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation.  The Superfund program is marking the 15th anniversary of its redevelopment initiative in 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Memories Stirred Along the Passaic River

By David Kluesner

The team of EPA employees who have been working behind the scenes on the proposal to clean up the Passaic River.

The team of EPA employees who have been working behind the scenes on the proposal to clean up the Passaic River.

Carol Johnston

Carol Johnston

As we gathered along the banks of the Passaic River last Friday to announce the EPA’s ambitious proposal to clean up the most contaminated stretch of the river, I was reminded of two tireless environmental leaders who weren’t present, but joined us in spirit.

Ella Filippone

Ella Filippone

Sister Carol Johnston championed environmental justice for the Ironbound community long before that term was ever coined. Ella Filippone forced us to face the Passaic River decades before anyone wanted to. I felt them both smiling above us on April 11 as we recognized the largest cleanup proposal in EPA history. In my coat pocket I carried my favorite photos of them. They passed in 2013 but they spoke loudly that day. “So many delays but today this is government at its BEST”, I could hear Ella say. “Justice paid this community a visit today. Let’s get going, we have a lot of work to do”, I could hear Carol say. Their lives and lifelong pursuits live on.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Phoenix Rises: From Contaminated Land to Clean Energy

 By Tim Rehder

I’m always hoping to see an F-16 fly over when I drive by Buckley Air Force Base. No such luck today, but as we reach the top of the rise, we’re met by an even better sight: the brand-new 500 kilowatt Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array. I’m here for the ribbon cutting.

Most people know that a big part of EPA’s mission is to clean up contaminated lands. What’s less well known is that EPA also works hard to get contaminated sites back into productive use. An innovative approach to this in Colorado has been the development of community solar gardens on compromised lands. 

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

 I’ve been pitching this idea for some time. The rationale is pretty simple: installing solar cells in developed areas lessens the need to construct projects on pristine lands. These projects typically generate energy close to where it will be used, reducing the need for new transmission lines. And, of course, solar energy generates electricity without the harmful air emissions associated with traditional power generation.

Community-owned solar energy is a big idea whose time has come. Colorado passed legislation in 2010 requiring that utilities establish community-owned solar projects by offering incentives. Customers purchase or lease panels and the electricity produced is credited to the customer as if the panels were on their roof. 

 Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO


Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO

The Aurora solar array is the second community solar project where EPA Region 8 has provided technical assistance this year. The property is located atop contaminated ground water that has migrated from the Air Force base. EPA’s RePowering America’s Lands program funded a study to evaluate placing a solar project at the location. That study caught the attention of Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado company that has pioneered the concept of community-owned solar energy. Earlier in the year, EPA helped them locate a 500 kW project adjacent to the Marshall Landfill Superfund site near Boulder, Colorado, which is another site where contaminated ground water is a concern.

Projects like the ones in Aurora and Boulder County will allow more people than ever to generate electricity, leading them to pay more attention to the energy they’re using and strive to conserve it. Furthermore, these projects are demonstrating that contaminated lands can have a second life, one with a big environmental upside.
As we leave the ribbon cutting, the construction manager tells me that an F-16 flew a couple hundred feet above the site 45 minutes before I arrived – big sigh – but I won’t complain. It’s been a great day.

About the author: Tim Rehder is a senior environmental scientist in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver.  He works in the Brownfields program promoting renewable energy projects and green building on contaminated and formerly contaminated lands.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Superfund in the Big Apple

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City may soon notch a third site on the EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. The candidate is the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site, a defunct business that processed and sold minerals containing thorium from the 1920s to 1954 in Ridgewood, Queens. Wolff-Alport imported monazite sands, rich in thorium, from central Africa. The site is currently radioactively contaminated, although the risks from this residual radioactive contamination do not represent a health concern in the short-term, it could pose a health risk under certain long-term exposure scenarios. Additional investigation and remedial work is needed, so the EPA is proposing that Wolff-Alport be added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

A lot of work has already been done at the site. The EPA installed protective shielding on portions of the site that will prevent nearby residents, employees and customers of area businesses from being exposed to elevated gamma radiation from below the surface. The shielding material included concrete, lead and steel, depending on the area.

Reporters often ask me to compare the cleanup work at the two other NYC Superfund sites, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.  The Gowanus Canal was built in the 19th century to ease the transport of goods and services. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway including manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. Sadly, it also became a giant receptacle for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. EPA’s $506 million Gowanus cleanup will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from ruining the cleanup.

Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal share a legacy of urban and industrial pollution as major arteries in the City’s transportation system. In the late 1800s and throughout most of the 1900s, Newtown was replete with sprawling oil refineries, petrochemical plants, factories, plants, sugar refineries, canneries, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. Similarly, the creek is negatively impacted by discharges from combined sewer overflows and sewer treatment plants.

Where the Superfund sites differ significantly is in the status, or better said, where they are situated on the Superfund Roadmap.  In 2013, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the Gowanus cleanup. This milestone document explains what cleanup alternatives the Agency has decided are the best choice to clean up a Superfund site. In the case of the Gowanus, the decision document came after the EPA held a 120-day period to receive public comments and hosted two formal public meetings. Prior to the Record of Decision, the Agency evaluated more than 1,800 e-mails, letters, postcards and petitions about the cleanup. Conversely, Newtown Creek is a few years away from a Record of Decision. Currently, the creek is undergoing assiduous sampling and study as part of the EPA’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. During this phase, the EPA will determine the nature and extent of contamination. This scientific work is expected to be completed in 2018 and would be followed by a proposed cleanup plan for the public’s consideration.

Another NYC site, the Radium Chemical Company site at 60-06 27th Avenue, Queens was on the Superfund list from 1989 to 1995 when the EPA led a successful cleanup of a radioactively-contaminated plant that no longer poses a threat to public health or the environment. It has since been delisted.

Naysayers claim that placing these sites on the Superfund list creates a stigma and is “bad for business.” Protecting human health and the environment is EPA’s first concern, but there is ample evidence to suggest that a Superfund cleanup can help communities and be a boon to local commerce by creating economic opportunity and using innovative technologies to mitigate contamination in a cost-effective manner. A cleanup also gives rise to redevelopment of an area that was once blighted, thus returning a contaminated property to the community and the tax rolls.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month

Members of the site visit tour of the Santa Clara Pueblo, center OSWER Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus

Members of the site visit tour of the Santa Clara Pueblo, center OSWER Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus

Recently, while in New Mexico attending the 4th annual Tribal Lands Forum, EPA’s Region 6 Regional Administrator Ron Curry and I were honored to be hosted by the Governor of the Santa Clara Pueblo Bruce Tafoya, the Tribal Sheriff Regis Chavarria, and the Environmental Director Joseph Chavarria on a tour of the Pueblo and its surrounding areas.

I experienced first-hand the impact of recent flooding and fire on canyon lands that are culturally significant to the Santa Clara Pueblo.  The Pueblo launched an organized multi-year emergency response effort to address imminent dangers and eventually restore the canyon’s land and water.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Pollution by Design: Reducing Pollution Through Organizing


By Penny Newman

Untitled-22

Heavy rains cause overflow from toxic waste pits to run through a local Glen Avon school

Thirty five years ago, I joined a rag tag group of moms who gathered together to decide how we were going to stop the exposures from the Stringfellow Acid Pits, a permitted Class 1 toxic dump site that accepted chemical wastes from throughout California.  This was in response to an incident where the State of California, during a heavy rain period, released over one million gallons of liquid toxic waste into our community in order to relieve pressure on a the dam that was holding back 34 million gallons of hazardous waste. They did this without informing us, flooding our streets, and inundating our homes and school.  Our children splashed in the puddles, made beards and became snow men in the frothy mounds of gray toxic foam.

Untitled-23When we realized what had happened, we decided we’d had enough.  Concerned Neighbors in Action (CNA) formed to stop it. By 1980 we began to hear rumors of places like Love Canal and Times Beach, where communities were experiencing similar problems.  Putting our heads and hearts together we launched into a decade long battle to make the system respond to the health crisis that we, and other communities, were facing.  Our efforts changed laws, developed legal precedent and created new institutions.

In 1993, after stopping the exposures and winning a personal injury lawsuit with a $114 million settlement, CNA became the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) to broaden our work and bring focus to the underlying factors of polluted communities.  We learned that these situations don’t just appear by accident. They are the result of a system that seeks the lowest costs, which can lead to high polluting industries locating their operations in poorer communities and communities of color.  This is why CCAEJ has developed a mission of “bringing people together to improve our social and natural environment,” as recognition that the social environment—economic, political, education— determine the fate of our community’s environment and our living conditions.

If we do not have the power to influence decisions in those systems, they will be used to advance other interests.   It is not by accident that our small rural community ended up with the Stringfellow Acid Pits – it was a decision made by powerful interests taking advantage of the system.   The goal was to find cheap places to dump their poisonous wastes in a place that is out of sight—commonly called “remote disposal.” While we knew this by instinct, our feelings were confirmed when we uncovered a report commissioned by the State of California and written by a consulting firm.  It profiled the communities that would be the easiest to site polluting facilities.  In the summary they write, “all socioeconomic groupings tend to resent the nearby siting of major facilities, but the middle and upper socioeconomic strata possess better resources to effectuate their opposition.” 

Untitled-24In other words, pick the most vulnerable communities.  Understanding that poor communities and communities of color are targeted for pollution is an important factor in how to attack the problems. That’s why CCAEJ works specifically in Inland Valley communities like Riverside and San Bernardino in Southern California; which face some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country today.  Building power for these forgotten communities through leadership development, trainings, and actions; forcing the public and politicians to see the issues so they can’t be ignored or hidden; and flexing our political power is the true pathway to environmental justice.

Penny Newman is executive director and founder of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties. She began her fight for environmental justice with the battle of the Stringfellow Acid Pits, California’s worst toxic waste site. This 25-year battle of a small town against the pollution from the Stringfellow site is recounted in her book, “Remembering Stringfellow.” Ms. Newman has received numerous awards during her 27 years as an environmental activist, including Jurupa’s “Citizen of the Year.” Newman has also appeared on numerous television shows such as the “Remembering Your Spirit” segment of the Oprah Winfrey show. She was the subject of an HBO documentary, “Toxic Time Bomb.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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One of EPA’s Finest

A longtime leader of EPA passed away suddenly on Friday, July 26, 2013.  Ira Leighton was the Deputy Regional Administrator in New England; more importantly he was my colleague and friend.

EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding (left) and Deputy Administrator Ira Leighton (right)

EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding (left) and Deputy Regional Administrator Ira Leighton (right)

Ira started his legacy at EPA on June 11, 1972, just over two years after the Agency was created.  He participated and helped lead EPA through historic environmental progress.  Ira was an early pioneer in the Waste programs at EPA.  He began his career working with states before Superfund law existed, and he participated in not only developing but executing on our Superfund law in communities around New England.  To put that in perspective, there are 118 Superfund Sites in the region, and Ira Leighton has touched every single one of them in some way or another.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Changing the Health of a Community – Beyond Land Cleanup

By Mathy Stanislaus

When I went to Omaha, NE last week, I was excited for Superfund’s big announcement: the delisting of over 1,000 residential parcels from the Omaha Lead Superfund site. This was an important milestone in EPA’s overall site cleanup activities, particularly for the residents whose properties were contaminated with toxic lead from the ASARCO smelter cleaned up.

It was also important to the children of the community – our efforts resulted in measurable health improvements: the percentage of children in eastern Omaha with elevated blood lead levels have been reduced from nearly 33 percent before 1998 to less than two percent today.

By reducing blood lead levels, you change people’s lives. You protect a child for his/her entire life and you change the health of a community. As part of one of the largest cleanup projects – particularly in an urban setting – in the Superfund program with over 40,000 largely lower-income residencies, I was very proud to acknowledge the public health impacts from eliminating lead exposure (significant reduction of blood lead levels in children) and the economic benefits of the cleanup.

I spoke with several people when I made the announcement and two really stood out in my mind. One individual explained that what began as basic outreach on public health resulted in a permanent institution in the community to look at children’s health at a multiple of ways that go beyond the lead cleanup.

I also spoke with the person that fields the calls from residents to deal with their issues on a day-to-day basis. They explained how challenging the work can be but understood how EPA can deal with community concerns regarding cleanups and explain how cleanups are done in a way that is protective but also accommodates their lives.

This isn’t easy work. Nor was the cleanup. It was easy to see how challenging these resident-by-resident cleanups were and I’m proud of the work EPA and contractors have done. This cleanup created hundreds of high-paying seasonal jobs and contributed to the development of a skilled labor force with job training funded through an EPA cooperative agreement with the Omaha Metropolitan Community College. Not only are we contributing to improving children’s health, but we’re transforming the community economically.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is assistant administrator for EPA’s Office Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Career Advice from Bruce

bruce

Many times when you start a new job or project, you develop new interests you never knew you had, based on that work.  In the course of doing these career interviews, I have come to realize that this has happened to many EPA employees.  Bruce Sypniewski is no exception to this.  I sat down with Bruce to hear about the variety of experiences that lead him to where he is today. 

 

What is your position at the EPA?

I am the Deputy Division Director for the Air and Radiation Division.  My position is internally focused.  I make sure the division has the resources it needs to perform and achieve goals.  I address human resource and funding issues and when needed step in for the Division Director when he is unavailable. 

Do you have prior work experiences that lead you to the EPA?

After graduate school I worked for the Lake County Health Department assessing closed and covered landfills and their impact on groundwater.  This led me to a consulting job at Ecology & Environment.  Here I did assessments of abandoned hazardous waste sites for the Superfund Program. I got to see a lot of environmental issues and pollution and wanted to get involved in regulation, which led me to the EPA.  I have had a number of positions here including Permit Writer, Remedial Project Manager, Supervisor and Program Manager, along with many different temporary assignments.

What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day.  I get pulled into all kinds of meetings with Senior Managers and staff on topics ranging from the budget to environmental issues.  My job is to distill information and make it presentable and understandable to the common person.  I help boil down all the information to applied science – so that the research and data can be applied to real world scenarios. 

What is the best part of your job?

There are a lot of best parts!  I love tackling problems that have a huge impact on public health and the environment.  Having a hand in that whole range of environmental problems is great, when results are seen.  There is a long term impact in this work.  Ideas become realities!

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

Yes, through my father.  My father was a tradesman and spent most of his days in a shop or factory setting so his ideal downtime was outside where nature was.  He taught my siblings and me that we can’t put a price on nature and that we are stewards of the land. 

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?

I was a geology major and my job title for Lake County Health Department was Geologist.  I applied many of the classes I used in school to my previous jobs.

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

I will pass on my father’s advice; “When you leave a place, leave it cleaner than you found it”.  Think of yourself as a steward and not an owner of the land to do with it what you will.  You have a responsibility to the next generation to preserve and protect the environment.

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greener Cleanups at Hazardous Waste Sites

To continue the Agency’s efforts to expand the conversation on climate change, we are highlighting EPA climate change research with Science Matters articles. Below, we share how EPA is leading efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during cleanup operations at hazardous waste sites. 

Greener Cleanups at Hazardous Waste Sites

Rooftop solar panels power groundwater treatment at a cleanup site.

Rooftop solar panels power groundwater treatment at a cleanup site.

Superfund is the federal program responsible for cleaning the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites, from leaking landfills to contaminated soils at old factories. Superfund sites require a lot of energy to fuel pumps, heavy machinery, heating units, and other cleaning systems. This equipment can emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) and other pollutants. Switching to alternative energy sources for even a portion of these fuel needs can dramatically increase a cleanup site’s net environmental benefits.

Thanks to EPA’s Smart Energy Resources Guide (SERG), Superfund site managers now have the tools for “greener” clean up operations. The guide covers techniques to reduce cleanup emissions in a process called green remediation, and can be used by any site remediation and redevelopment manager. It contains information on innovative approaches and new technologies for renewable energy and cleaner diesel-powered remediation systems.

“At the time SERG was released, no other resource like this existed for application to Superfund,” says EPA Superfund and Technology Liaison Michael Gill, who helped develop SERG as part of a Regional Applied Research Effort grant to EPA’s Southwest Regional office. Jennifer Wang, a student from the University of California at Berkeley was commissioned to research and write SERG, with oversight from Gill and EPA colleague Penny McDaniel.

The guide presents site managers with an overview of successful renewable energy technologies: solar, wind, landfill gas, anaerobic digestion, and gasification. These technologies convert sun, wind, or waste materials into clean energy onsite. The energy can then be used to fuel cleanup activities, routed to the electrical grid, and be a part of a site’s redevelopment.

With the information presented in the Smart Energy Resources Guide, managers can select the best practices for their site’s greener cleanup efforts. Examples of the impacts highlighted include:

  • The Frontier Fertilizer Superfund site near Davis, CA now treats contaminated groundwater with solar power generated onsite, preventing nearly 120,000 pounds of CO2 emissions each year.
  • Construction vehicles used to build a soil cap to contain acidic mine tailings at the Elizabeth Mine Superfund site in South Stratford, VT run on biodiesel fuel.
  • The Camp Pendleton Superfund Site in southern CA also used biodiesel fuels in clean up operations, cutting emission of particulate matter, carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
  • Microturbines that powered the groundwater containment and treatment system around the Operating Industries Landfill in Monterey, CA when it was in operation were powered by gases collected from the landfill itself. Instead of escaping into the atmosphere where they could contribute to climate change, the gases were a source of energy used to generate approximetly 70% of the site’s energy needs, a savings of some $400,000 per year.

The Smart Energy Resources Guide also details the costs, availability, applicability, estimated emissions reduction benefits, permitting, vendor information, funding resources, and success stories for each alternative energy technology. Efficiency strategies as simple as reducing engine idling are covered along with guidance for investing in advanced cleanup technologies for long-term environmental and economic savings.

Biodiesel powered tractor.

A biodiesel-powered tractor

Cleanup sites adopt greener cleanup practices for a variety of reasons. Gill points out that, “some [cleanup] sites in remote areas are off the grid (e.g., mines).  Renewable energy can be seen as a practical alternative to running power lines or using diesel generators for long term cleanups.  In cases like these, SERG strategies are used almost out of necessity.”

The alternative energy resources found in SERG help advance energy conservation practices at Superfund sites and beyond, and have resulted in green remediation practices across the country. In addition, they have sparked the development RE-Powering America’s Lands, an EPA and Department of Energy joint venture focusing on renewable development. Any site manager can use the guide as a starting point to implement cleaner electricity and diesel practices for greener cleanups.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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