This website is intended to keep the public up-to-date on the NRDA process at Hanford, introduce the Natural Resource Trustee Council (HNRTC), and highlight public involvement opportunities.
What is NRDA?
When releases of contaminants are suspected to have led to “injury” of natural resources, Federal law allows government officials, acting as natural resource “trustees,” to enter into a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. The objective of the NRDA process is to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of injured natural resources and to compensate the public for any loss of services that occurs while natural resources are in an injured state. The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) promulgated regulations that establish a framework and set of procedures for NRDA. These regulations define three sequential NRDA phases:
- Pre-Assessment Phase. In the pre-assessment phase, Trustees conduct a review of readily-available information to determine if a formal damage assessment is likely to document impacts to natural resources attributable to the release of hazardous substances, and thus should be undertaken.
- Assessment Phase. The Assessment Phase includes two primary components: planning and implementation. First, the Trustees must write a plan, or series of plans, to ensure that the assessment of damages, including injury determination, quantification, and damage determination, is performed in a planned and systematic manner and that the methodologies selected can be conducted at a reasonable cost. The DOI regulations require Trustees to make Assessment Plan documents available for public review and comment.
- Post-Assessment Phase. During the post-assessment phase, the Trustees prepare a Report of Assessment documenting all aspects of the assessment process and make a formal claim for damages from the potentially responsible party(ies). Upon settlement of the claim or the awarding of damages, this phase concludes by preparing and implementing a Restoration Plan. The objectives of this plan are to restore affected natural resources to their baseline condition and compensate the public for the interim loss of services derived from those resources. Although most restoration projects begin during the Post-Assessment Phase, some restoration projects may occur earlier in the NRDA process. At Hanford, the Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council intends to include early restoration where feasible and appropriate to reduce interim service losses to resources and to accelerate site recovery.
NRDA progress at Hanford
The Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council completed the pre-assessment phase in June 2009 and determined that a full assessment was warranted. In 2010, Phase II was initiated, and included development of the Injury Assessment Plan (IAP) and related products, four expert panels, development of recommendations for initial studies/resource review reports, development of preliminary thresholds and tests and preparation of public involvement materials. The IAP was completed in January 2013 after public review and comment. Current work is focused on the implementation of more comprehensive injury studies identified in Phase II planning documents.
What is the difference between remediation and NRDA?
Remediation and/or response activities at Hanford are overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Washington State Department of Ecology. They are risk-based; that is, they are designed to reduce current and future risks to public health and the environment to acceptable levels. In contrast, natural resource damage claims focus on restoring injured natural resources to their “baseline” condition, defined as the condition they would be in absent the release of contaminants in question. Achieving a risk-based cleanup goal does not necessarily return injured natural resources to their baseline condition. However, Trustees take cleanup activities and outcomes into account — and whenever possible coordinate with the remedial process — in order to enhance the cost-effectiveness of proposed restoration activities.
Please Note: The content provided herein only summarizes the process, laws, and regulations as they pertain to the Hanford NRDA. Please refer to the law and regulations pertaining to NRDA for full description of the process and its definitions and requirements.