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last modified: October 09, 2008
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WHITE PAPER

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:
Bush’s EPA Is Decimating Waste Rules, Too


GrassRoots Recycling Network
October 14, 2002

Bush administration assaults on federal protections for air, water and public lands have received much media attention. Less widely recognized is the administration’s systematic attack on federal solid and hazardous waste rules. Altogether, it is the most sweeping federal deregulation agenda since the days of James Watt and the Reagan administration.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ideologues know that they cannot simply repeal federal waste laws enacted and reauthorized by Congress over three decades. So they are using the rule-making process to achieve the same result. Consider these changes proposed by the EPA´s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) in the past year:

  • deregulate municipal landfills under the guise of ‘experimentation’
  • allow gasification of hazardous and possibly solid waste without accountability
  • permit toxic computer monitors to be dumped or recycled under hazardous conditions

This white paper profiles seven proposed solid and hazardous waste rule changes that will, if implemented, profoundly undermine decades of protections of public health and the environment.

At the same time that Bush´s EPA appointees are rolling back protections, they have launched a public relations smoke screen called the Resource Conservation Challenge. Announced Sept. 9 by EPA assistant administrator and OSWER head Marianne Lamont Horinko, the ‘challenge’ recycles goals set in 1996 and offers a grab-bag of voluntary business and public education initiatives -- old ideas that have not worked in the past to reduce toxics or waste.

Repackaging Clinton-era goals as something new is disingenuous at best. More importantly, the ‘challenge’ is a smoke screen designed to hide the Bush agenda. While professing concern for recycling and resource conservation, Bush´s EPA is profoundly undermining those activities. While challenging America’s youth to take responsibility for conserving our natural resources, they are selling our children’s right to an unpolluted air, water and land for short-term corporate profit.

What is needed is a fundamental shift in how we deal with waste. Instead of eliminating rules that hold polluters responsible for past negligence, the EPA should extend the polluter-pays principle to prevent producers of toxic and throwaway products from imposing costs on the public. Our government should hold all producers responsible for their products and byproducts from ‘cradle to cradle.’

Government has a critical role to play in promoting resource conservation by leveling the playing field so that resource conserving businesses out-compete resource wasting businesses every time. The public can best be protected by government assigning producer responsibility for waste and setting and enforcing performance standards for resource recovery. There is a big middle ground between command-and-control regulation and throwing regulation out the window.

Waste managers who support recycling, business people engaged in resource conserving enterprises, and thinking people who care about our children’s future should pay attention and take action. Comments on two of the issues can be easily sent to EPA from GrassRoots Recycling Network’s website using links below.


Recent Waste Deregulation Proposals

  1. Deregulation of Municipal Landfills (‘State Research, Development and Demonstration Permits’) [1]
    EPA proposed a rule that would permit states to waive compliance with most federal design, operation and cover standards for municipal solid waste landfills. The proposed rule would effectively deregulate municipal landfills and devolve oversight to state agencies under the guise of encouraging innovation. EPA already has existing rules to handle applications for variances to test bona fide innovations. The landfill industry wants to liquefy waste to get more waste in the same airspace without increasing design standards or construction costs.

  2. Exempt Gasification of Garbage and Other Hazardous Waste from Federal Regulation [2]
    EPA is proposing to exempt hazardous petroleum refining wastes from regulation under RCRA if they are processed into synthesis gas in a gasification facility. EPA is also seeking comment on extending the exclusion to a broad range of toxic substances generated by industries other than the petroleum refining industry, including municipal solid waste and sewage sludge. Yet expansion of the exclusion to all hazardous secondary materials renders gasification more akin to waste treatment than to manufacturing. EPA even proposes to exempt off-site wastes at point of generation. Once exempt, there would be no way of ensuring that such hazardous material reached its destination.

  3. ‘Recycling’ Used Computer Monitors [3]
    An EPA proposal streamlines some regulations with the intent of fostering re-use and recycling of computer cathode ray tubes (CRTs). However, the proposed rule ignores some of the most egregious problems and loopholes that allow very environmentally damaging CRT disposal. These include the dumping of CRTs made possible by regulatory exclusion for small quantity generators such as individuals, resulting in a massive amount of hazardous e-waste that can legally be dumped into our nation's soil. The administration has ignored a loophole that allows easy export of about 80% of e-waste that is collected for recycling, without control, to Asia where it is known to be dumped and recycled in very hazardous conditions. Further, the proposal ignores the hazards inherent in circuit boards which are far more dangerous than CRTs as well as right-to-know provisions for communities.

  4. Exemption of Toxic Waste ‘Recycling’ from Federal Regulation
    Ms. Horinko has stated repeatedly that she intends to change the definition of ‘solid waste’ in RCRA so that numerous forms of ‘recycled’ hazardous waste are exempt from regulation under RCRA. Given their record, one might be concerned that EPA will bow to industries that want to take out of RCRA any hazardous waste that they say is being, or might be, ‘recycled’ into a product. America’s favorite environmental activity, recycling, could become synonymous with poison.

  5. Slash RCRA Reporting (‘RCRA Burden Reduction’) [4]
    EPA proposed to eliminate or modify a third of the 334 reporting requirements applying to hazardous waste generators and treatment, storage and disposal facilities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). While some of the proposals for reducing record keeping and reporting requirements are sensible, others go too far. For example, eliminating requirements that polluting facilities submit critical documentation to EPA, but rather merely keep records on site, will seriously compromise public accessibility and increase inspection time. The proposed reduction in record retention requirements for all documents to be kept for only three years will further compromise public and regulatory oversight.

  6. Weaken Cleanup, Closure and Reporting (‘Standardized Permit Rule’) [5]
    This rule would allow states to apply their own cleanup criteria independently of the federal RCRA corrective action process, resulting in a loss of federal enforcement power and undermining on-going cleanup programs. The rule would also undermine current financial assurance mechanisms for post-closure maintenance at polluting facilities and sites by allowing unreliable closure insurance. Insurance is not appropriate for an event whose occurrence is certain. Finally, this rule would inhibit public participation by allowing polluters to maintain certain records (including waste analysis plan, contingency plan and closure plan) at facilities instead of submitting them to the regulatory agency.

  7. ‘One Cleanup’ Standard: The Lowest Common Denominator [6]
    EPA has announced the "One Cleanup Program" policy initiative whose stated goal is “to manage all waste programs so that resources, activities, and results are more effectively coordinated and easily communicated to the public.” In fact, this initiative could easily push all toxic cleanups towards the lowest common denominator – the cheapest alternative for polluters and the least protective of health and environment. Cleanup methods and standards for theoretically biodegradable environmental contaminants, like petroleum, could be applied to persistent, highly toxic poisons like mercury and PCBs. Unlike rule changes, this change in administrative procedure can be achieved without public comment.


ENDNOTES

  1. See http://www.grrn.org/landfill/epa_background.html. EPA Docket Number F-2002-RDMP-FFFFF, published June 10, 2002 - State Research, Development and Demonstration Permits for MSW Landfills, Proposed Rule-Making – 40 CFR §258.4. Rule text at http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/mswlficr/.[off-site]
  2. EPA Docket Number F-2002-RPRP-FFFFF, published March 25, 2002 - Regulation of Hazardous Oil-Bearing Secondary Materials From the Petroleum Refining Industry and Other Hazardous Secondary Materials Processed in a Gasification System To Produce Synthesis Gas. Rule text at http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/gas.htm.[off-site]
  3. See EPA Docket Number F-2002-CRTP-FFFFF, published June 12, 2002 - Hazardous Waste Management System; Modification of the Hazardous Waste Program; Cathode Ray Tubes and Mercury-Containing Equipment. Rule text at http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-WASTE/2002/June/Day-12/f13116.htm.[off-site]
  4. EPA Docket Number F-1999-IBRA-FFFFF, published January 17, 2002 - Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Burden Reduction Initiative. Rule text at http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-WASTE/2002/January/Day-17/f191.htm. [off-site]
  5. EPA Docket Number F-2001-SPRF-FFFFF, published October 21, 2001 - Hazardous Waste Management System; Standardized Permit; Corrective Action; and Financial Responsibility for RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Facilities. Rule text http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/permit/std-perm.htm.[off-site]
  6. See http://www.epa.gov/swerrims/onecleanup.htm.[off-site]

 


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