Goals of RCRA
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was first enacted in 1976 and EPA was faced with a huge implementation task. The bulk of the activity during the first few years focused on developing basic regulations for the management of both hazardous and nonhazardous waste in order to provide adequate protection of human health and the environment. Now, most of these elementary standards are in place, and the RCRA program has moved in to address new challenges. EPA continues to measure and analyze the program's results to help identify ways to make the RCRA program more efficient, and new ways to achieve better, more cost-effective protection of public health and the environment.
Historically, EPA has devoted much of its efforts to the treatment and cleanup of pollutants after they are generated, and in fact, great strides have been made in environmental protection over the past 20 years. Since the early 90's, EPA has placed greater emphasis on the environmental and economic incentives to reduce or eliminate waste before it is even generated. Both the RCRA solid and hazardous waste programs have adopted waste minimization elements. EPA uses the term waste minimization to mean the reduction, to the extent feasible, of solid and hazardous waste. Both programs emphasize source reduction (reducing waste at its source, before it is even generated) and environmentally sound recycling.
The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA), make the reduction or elimination of hazardous waste generation at the source a priority of the RCRA hazardous waste program. To encourage hazardous waste minimization nationwide, EPA developed the Waste Minimization National Plan. This initiative promotes a long-term national effort to minimize the generation of hazardous wastes. The goals of the National Plan include:
Reducing the presence of the most persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals (PBTs) in hazardous wastes 25% by the year 2000, and 50% by the year 2005
Emphasizing source reduction and environmental source recycling over treatment and disposal
Preventing transfers of chemical releases from one medium (air, water, land) to another.
EPA has also developed strategies and priorities for encouraging source reduction and recycling of nonhazardous solid waste streams regulated by RCRA Subtitle D. EPA envisions a flexible integrated waste management state where source reduction, recycling, waste combustion, and landfilling all play a part in the successful management of solid waste at the local level. Source reduction and recycling are preferred approaches and are at the top of the management hierarchy. Waste combustion and landfilling are less emphasized. In addition, to expand the use of recovered materials. EPA developed the procurement program, which establishes guidelines recommending that federal agencies purchase products containing recycled materials.
To achieve the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) goals, Region 2 plans to:
- develop regional-state-industry partnerships to encourage waste minimization efforts
- develop a database to track persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs) reduction and other waste minimization
- work with the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and Biennial Reporting System (BRS), as well as other data to identify industry sectors
- hold technical waste minimization conferences to share innovative approaches and success stories
- conduct industry-specific workshops
- meet with academia, business and trade associations, and others to seek technical expertise in industry sectors of concern
- disseminate information exchange through research/technical publications and through interne
For additional information on waste minimization activities in Region 2, please contact: Joseph Malki (212)637-4101
EPA is currently identifying options to reinvent the RCRA program by streamlining compliance requirements. EPA's reinvention philosophy includes providing flexibility in how results are achieved, sharing information and decision making with all stakeholders, creating incentives for compliance with environmental requirements, facilitating compliance with environmental requirements, and seeking a better interface with other environmental regulations.
EPA is also placing an increasing emphasis on making the RCRA hazardous waste program more risk-based (i.e., ensuring that the regulations correspond to the level of risk posed by the hazardous waste being regulated). This approach is particularly valuable for the cleanup of contaminated sites. Placing unnecessary requirements on sites whose contamination poses low risks to human health and the environment may create disincentives for cleanup. Focusing regulations on risk would allow states greater flexibility in determining the appropriate way to regulate sites contaminated with relatively small quantities of hazardous waste.
Subtitle C RCRA encourages states to develop their own hazardous waste programs as an alternative to direct implementation of the federal program. At the inception of RCRA, it was envisioned that a successful national program would be put in place through joint action of the federal and state governments. EPA would set national goals and standards based on the agency's technical expertise, and the states would be responsible for implementing those policies.
EPA is seeking to strengthen this federal/state relationship by streamlining the authorization process. Because EPA's hazardous waste regulations are developed in stages, EPA has a phased approach to approving state programs. Each state must either adopt the new regulations or upgrade those elements of its program that do not meet newly established federal standards. The authorization process is often long and cumbersome. EPA has proposed streamlined procedures for these state revisions to make the process quicker and more efficient. These procedures will also help reduce the amount of resources needed for preparing and processing authorization applications, and will speed up state implementation of additional parts of the RCRA program.
It is as important to determine whether these protective environmental goals are actually being achieved as it is to develop them in the first place. Recognizing the importance of evaluating the performance of all government agencies, including EPA, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993 was enacted to provide for the establishment of strategic planning and performance measurement in the federal government. The intent of GPRA is to improve public confidence in federal agencies by holding agencies accountable for achieving results.
EPA has adopted the GPRA framework by developing an Agency-wide strategic plan that encompasses all EPA offices and programs areas. The EPA strategic plan contains several goals specific to RCRA, such as preventing pollution, reducing risk to humans and the environment, better waste management, and restoration of contaminated waste sites.
As part of the requirements of GPRA, EPA has also developed specific, quantifiable objectives for each of these goals. Progress toward these target objectives will be measured and evaluated annually. This framework ensures that EPA can evaluate the success of its different programs and can demonstrate tangible results to the general public.
Public Participation in government decisions is a basic principal in our democratic system. Under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), EPA has the authority to regulate hazardous waste facilities. The public is often concerned about the potential impacts of hazardous waste on their health and safety. Therefore, Section 7004 of RCRA requires EPA to encourage and assist public participation in the development, revision, implementation and enforcement of any regulation, guidance or program under RCRA. The statute also specifies certain public notices (radio, newspaper, etc.) that EPA must provide before issuing any RCRA permit. The statute establishes a process by which concerned citizens can participate at all levels, from before permit application, through the permitting process and during the permit life.
In 1995, the RCRA Public Participation Rule was expanded, due to numerous stakeholders expressing concern that the process of permitting hazardous waste facilities did not involve the public early enough nor did it always provide adequate information about the permitting process and facility activities. In response, EPA promulgated the RCRA Expanded Public Participation Rule which amended the permitting procedure by:
- requiring permit applicants to hold informal public meetings to inform community members of proposed hazardous waste management activities;
- requiring the permitting agency to announce the submission of a permit application by sending a notice to everyone on the facility's mailing list informing them where they can examine the application; and
- authorizing the permitting agency director to require a facility to set up an information repository and requiring the permitting agency director to notify the public prior to a trial burn at a combustion facility.
This final rule applies to hazardous waste facilities that have or are seeking a RCRA Subtitle C permit.
The overall goal of Public Participation is to provide for meaningful involvement of the affected public in government decision making. Public Participation provides an opportunity for all interested parties to become informed and involved, and to influence program development and implementation.
Related to Public Participation in that it deals with the public's right to just treatment under environmental programs, regardless of race or income, is the Environmental Justice (EJ) Initiative. Concern that minority populations and/or low-income populations may bear a disproportionate adverse health or environmental effect led President Clinton to issue Executive Order 12898 in 1994, focusing Federal Agency attention on these issues. EPA defines EJ as "fair treatment for people of all races, cultures and incomes, regarding the development of environmental laws, regulations and policies". The Office of Solid Waste (OSW) oversees the RCRA program and is supporting a variety of RCRA-related Environmental Justice Initiatives.