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Engineering > Environmental Engineering

Environmental Engineering

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The USDA Forest Service Environmental Engineering program functions in compliance with the following Federal laws:

Safe Drinking Water Act

The Forest Service owns and manages over 5,000 drinking water systems. These systems range in complexity from hand pump wells to full water treatment plants at major installations. The Forest Service manages all systems as public systems in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and respective State regulations. In many cases, this approach is in excess of minimum requirements for system operation. Primarily, these systems provide drinking water at recreational sites and facilities.

The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, August 1996, ushered in a wave of enhancements to existing provisions, as well as creating new provisions that shifted the Act more towards prevention. The EPA Office of Water Quality Management has established work groups to develop guidance addressing changes in the law. The Forest Service has been participating in many of these work groups, including:

  • small systems
  • consumer confidence
  • source water protection
  • monitoring reform
  • operator certification.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

RCRA was enacted in 1976, amending the Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), and is the primary Federal statute regulating the generation, transportation, treatment, and disposal of solid and hazardous waste. RCRA was amended in 1984 by the Hazardous and Solid Waste Act (HSWA), which established national minimum design standards for municipal solid waste landfills and for regulated underground storage tanks containing hazardous substances and petroleum products. RCRA was amended again in 1992 by the Federal Facilities Compliance Act (FFCA), which waived any immunity applicable to the United States with respect to civil violations of hazardous and solid waste laws and regulations. The FFCA made Federal facilites subject to civil and adminstrative fines and penalties from Federal, State, and local agencies.

RCRA establishes a "Cradle to Grave" management system for control of hazardous waste. The waste generator has the responsiblity to:

  1. Identify whether or not the wastes are hazardous.
  2. Obtain a RCRA storage permit if hazardous waste is stored on site for more than 90 days.
  3. Properly label and mark hazardous waste while it is being accumulated and for shipment.
  4. Track transportation of the hazardous waste through the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest system.

The generator maintains long-term liability for the hazardous waste even after disposal.

Most Forest Service facilities generate zero or very little hazardous waste. Hazardous wastes generated at Forest Service facilities include paints, laboratory chemicals, and pesticides. The Forest Service has an active pollution prevention program and is working towards reducing waste volumes and finding less hazardous alternative products.

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A RCRA permit is required for facilities which treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste. It is Forest Service policy that no RCRA treatment/storage/disposal facilities will be located on National Forest System (NFS) lands.

RCRA also addresses Underground Storage Tanks (UST's). UST's containing regulated substances or petroleum products must come into compliance with EPA requirements by various dates depending on the age of tank or be taken out of service. The Forest Service has removed over 1,600 UST's.

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Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)

CERCLA, enacted in 1980, establishes broad Federal authority to respond to releases or threats of releases of hazardous substances. CERCLA:
  • Mandates the development of a National Contingency Plan to establish procedures and standards for responding to releases of hazardous substances.
  • Requires development of a ranking system to prioritize waste sites for evaluation and cleanup (priority waste sites are listed on the National Priorities List).
  • Requires regulations be promulgated to assess damages for injury to natural resources.
  • Requires reporting of releases of hazardous substances in quantities exceeding specific limits.
  • Requires Federal agencies to provide information and certain warranties to purchasers of Federal lands concerning the presence of hazardous materials.
CERCLA was amended in 1986 by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), which requires:
  • Establishment of State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC) and emergency planning districts.
  • Development of local emergency response plans.
  • Reporting of hazardous chemical inventories.
  • Completion of toxic chemical release reports.

CERCLA was amended again in 1992 by the Community Environmental Response Facilitation Act (CERFA), which requires Federal agencies to provide information and certain warranties to purchasers of Federal lands documenting that the property is free of hazardous substances and petroleum product contamination.

Through Executive Order 12580, the USDA was delegated certain CERCLA responsibilities, which it in turn delegated to the Forest Service. The Forest Service has the authority to act as the lead agency on lands that it administers, and is responsible for oversight of all investigations and cleanups on NFS lands, with the exception of emergency response actions. The EPA or the U.S. Coast Guard are the lead agencies for CERCLA emergency response actions on NFS lands.

The Forest Service must follow the process in the National Contingency Plan (NCP; 40 CFR Part 300) to conduct investigations and cleanup action at sites on NFS lands and to pursue potentially responsible parties for their involvement in cleanup actions. Hazardous substance sites on NFS lands include abandoned landfills and mines, oil and gas exploration sites, and drug lab or other illegal dumps.

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