What is natural resource damage assessment (NRDA)?
Natural resource damage assessment and restoration is a process authorized by Federal law and performed by authorized government officials (“Trustees”) to identify, plan, and restore natural resources injured by contaminant releases.

What are natural resources?
According to the DOI regulations, the term “natural resources” means land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies, and other resources.  Natural resources are generally categorized into five groups – surface water resources, ground water resources, air resources, geologic resources, and biological resources.

What is a natural resource injury?
A natural resource injury is an observable or measurable adverse change in a natural resource resulting from the release of a hazardous substance. Injuries can be defined for a number of natural resource categories, as identified in detail in the DOI regulations implementing CERCLA, for example:

  • Surface water resources: concentrations of hazardous substances exceeding drinking water standards in water that was potable prior to the release of hazardous substances and which was committed for use as a public water supply;
  • Ground water resources: concentrations of hazardous substances exceeding drinking water standards in water that was potable prior to the release of hazardous substances;
  • Air resources: Clean Air Act hazardous air pollution standards for concentration of emissions are exceeded;
  • Geologic resources: Concentrations of hazardous substances in soil are sufficient to cause a toxic response to soil invertebrates; and
  • Biological resources: Concentration of the hazardous substance is sufficient to cause the resource or its offspring to have undergone a change in viability including death, disease, cancer, or physical deformations.

What are natural resource damages?
Natural resource damages are the compensation the public seeks for natural resource injuries resulting from the release of contaminants. Damages can include both the cost of restoring injured resources to their baseline condition (i.e., the condition that would have existed had the release of contaminants not occurred) as well as compensation for the interim loss of natural resource services before restoration. Damages may also include the cost of assessment, plus compensation for injuries occurring as a result of remedial response actions.

What are Trustees?
Natural Resource Trustees are government agencies who act on behalf of the public when there is injury to, destruction of, loss of, or threat to natural resources (for which they have management responsibility) as a result of a release of a contaminant. Federal, State, and Tribal entities are authorized to act as Trustees pursuant to Section 301(c) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

What are the phases of a NRDA?

  • 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.

Where is the Hanford NRDA process right now?
The Final Hanford Injury Assessment Plan (IAP) was completed in January 2013 after public review and comment and is available for download. The IAP provides an outline of the approach the Hanford Trustees will take to assess injuries to natural resources stemming from releases of Site-related hazardous substances. The IAP formalizes the Trustees’ current understanding of the studies that may be necessary to determine and quantify injury to site resources and resource services.

The HNRTC is using the IAP to conduct injury assessment studies that will be used for determining damage and the necessary amount of restoration. Injury assessment is expected to last several more years.

How are natural resource damages (NRD) different from remediation? If remediation is done properly, won’t that resolve injury?
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. Additionally, remedial activities often result in decisions to leave some wastes in place, necessitating institutional controls on access to those areas or resources. This action can itself result in continued injury to natural resources and service losses.

When can the public get involved?
At a minimum, the public is invited to participate in the NRDA process upon the completion of any draft assessment planning or restoration planning documents. Trustees will notify the public 30 days prior to the release of a planning document, and will generally make these plans available for public review and comment for a period of 30 days.

What is a Potentially Responsible Party (PRP)?
In the context of NRDA, a PRP is an individual or entity responsible for part or all of the release of contaminants. At Hanford, the PRP is the United States Federal government.

What is a cooperative assessment?
Performing a NRDA is the responsibility of the natural resource trustee(s). The law and regulations specifically require Trustees to provide responsible parties an opportunity to cooperate in the NRDA investigation and process. In most, but not all cases, potentially responsible parties (PRPs) will choose to participate in the NRDA process. Performing NRDA cooperatively can result in cost savings by increasing the likelihood that a settlement can be reached between the Trustees and the Responsible Party(ies) and reducing the likelihood that the case will be pursued and resolved through litigation.

In addition to acting as a Trustee through DOE, the U.S. Federal government is the party responsible for discharges and releases of oil or contaminants at Hanford. The U.S. government and the other Trustees have agreed to follow a cooperative assessment process in pursuing this NRDA and will cooperatively develop assessment and restoration plans.

What compensation might the public receive for injuries to natural resources or associated lost services as a result of the NRDA?
In a successful claim for damages under NRDA, the public is compensated through restoration of the injured resources and the services they provide to their baseline condition (the condition that would have existed had the releases of the contaminants not occurred). Thus, in the event that any monetary damages are awarded to the Trustees as a result of an NRDA claim, they must be used to restore injured resources and lost services.

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.

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