By Nitin Natarajan
Recently, I attended a full scale exercise hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE) to test their emergency preparedness and resilience in a number of scenarios. As part of this exercise, federal, state, local and industry partners gathered to discuss the potential risks to critical infrastructure due to climate change, such as:
- increased temperatures,
- sea level rise,
- decreased permafrost,
- increased heavy precipitation events, and the
- increased frequency of wildfires
We also discussed steps that the energy sector has and will be undertaking to address those risks. Without proper protections and effective restoration, the presence of uncontrolled hazardous substances in surface water, groundwater, air, soil and sediment can cause human health concerns, threaten healthy ecosystems, and inhibit economic opportunities on and adjacent to contaminated properties.
At EPA, we strive to protect the environment from contamination through sustainable materials management and the proper management of waste and petroleum products. We work with our partners to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies should they occur. We also work collaboratively with states, tribes, and local governments to clean up communities and create a safer environment for all Americans.
However, climate change is posing new challenges to OLEM’s ability to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. This is why we need to show leadership and take actions to make our programs more resilient now and in the future. We have developed climate change adaptation plans that describe what we’re doing and what we plan to do to address these challenges. We have also developed a climate change training program to make certain that our staff and other stakeholders are aware of the ways that climate change poses challenges to our ability to fulfill our mission.
For example, our Brownfields program has developed checklists to support community efforts to consider climate as part of their cleanup and area-wide planning activities. And our Superfund program has developed fact sheets on adapting remediation activities to the impacts from climate change.
Additionally, our Office of Land and Emergency Management is working on:
- incorporating climate change into future flood risks for contaminated sites,
- linking renewable energy installations sited on contaminated lands with critical infrastructure, and
- providing guidance on considering the effects of climate change in the land revitalization process.
As we look at investing in the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, we need to begin looking at smarter investments that take climate change into account and how we can build to more resilient standards.
I’d like to thank those who set up and participated in the SCE exercise. The exercise and the roundtable discussion among federal, state, local and private sector officials showed me how important these steps are to continue to protect our nation’s lands and people in a collaborative manner and how these steps help protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. While many of these changes are half a century away, improving our nation’s resilience will not occur in months or years. Some efforts, including further enhancements to the electrical grid, will take decades. There is hard work to be done now to help ensure the future protection of human health and the environment.