Frequent Questions about the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Final Rule

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Question: What does this final rule do?

Answer: This rule provides a much-needed update to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste generator regulations. EPA’s final rule revises the hazardous waste generator regulations making them easier to understand and providing greater flexibility in how hazardous waste is managed to better fit today's business operations. The revisions will protect Americans by enhancing the safety of facilities that create hazardous waste and the response capabilities of emergency responders by improving risk communication. The new rule directly responds to feedback from our regulated community, states, communities, and other stakeholders and represents a significant investment in evaluating and addressing the challenges in the hazardous waste program.

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Question: Why is EPA promulgating this rule now?

Answer: EPA, the states and the regulated community now have more than 35 years of experience with implementing the hazardous waste program and EPA used lessons learned from that experience to finalize a rule that will improve program efficiency and effectiveness. Further, the final rule is the result of significant work with the regulated community, states, and other stakeholders. On April 22, 2004, EPA published the “Hazardous Waste Generator Program Evaluation” Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (69 Federal Register 21800) and held four public meetings to evaluate the effectiveness of the RCRA hazardous waste generator program and received more than 500 comments on areas for potential improvement in the generator program. EPA then took a number of non-regulatory actions to respond to the public comments, including releasing both an online guide to the generator program and specific memos on closed containers and turnover in tanks, as well as updating the program website. EPA also issued a technical corrections rule. Eventually, EPA determined that further revisions would require regulatory changes and EPA's proposal on this action was issued on September 25, 2015 (80 Federal Register 57918). The proposal resulted in more than 200 additional comments that EPA used in finalizing the provisions of the rule. Today’s final rule also responds to some of the feedback received through a 2012 program evaluation on hazardous waste determinations, as well EPA’s Retrospective Review of Existing Regulations under Executive Order 13563.

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Question: What are the benefits of these revisions to the generator regulations?

Answer: The final rule provides both economic and environmental benefits. Below are examples of those benefits:

  • The final rule provides flexibility to very small quantity generators (VSQGs)—previously called “conditionally exempt small quantity generators—that generate 100 kilograms or less of hazardous waste per month, to ship their waste to a large quantity generator (LQG) under the control of the same company. This change has the potential to reduce operating costs to the company, reduce environmental liability, increase recycling and reduce the amount of VSQG hazardous waste being sent to municipal solid waste landfills.
  • The final rule also addresses episodic generation of hazardous waste. This occurs when a non-routine event, such as a product recall, results in a smaller generator—a VSQG or small quantity generator (SQG)—generating an atypical amount of hazardous waste in one month, triggering more stringent generator regulations. Under the final rule, a generator can maintain its usual generator category during a non-routine event and avoid the increased requirements of a higher generator status.
  • This rule also finalizes improvements in risk communication for workers, waste handlers, and emergency responders by requiring additional information on the hazardous posed by a hazardous waste when it is being accumulated on-site.

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Question: What changed in the final regulations since the proposal?

Answer: EPA made several significant changes to the final rule as a result of public comments received on the proposal. Some examples of these changes include the following:

  • EPA is NOT requiring that generators document all determinations that a waste is not a hazardous waste and maintain that documentation in its record.
  • EPA is NOT requiring that generator label containers and tanks of hazardous waste with a description of the contents of the container. The generator must include the words “Hazardous Waste,” a description of the hazards of the container, and the date accumulation started.
  • EPA revised the time frame for SQG re-notification to every four years starting in 2021 and moved the reporting period to September 1 of the year the re-notifications are required.
  • EPA is extending the time frame for an episodic event (part 262 subpart L) from the proposed 45 days to 60 days.

The final rule contains other revisions to the proposed rule as well, which are described in detail in the preamble to the rule.

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Question: How and why will the hazardous waste generator regulations be reorganized?

Answer: With this rule, EPA is reorganizing the regulations so that the hazardous waste generator regulations will generally be found in one place in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). EPA sought to provide generators with a more consolidated and clear set of regulations to foster improved understanding of and compliance with the regulations. The specific changes are:

  1. The VSQG (formerly CESQG) regulations that were previously found in section 261.5 of the hazardous waste regulations at title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) are moved to part 262 so that the generator regulations are all in one part of the regulations.
  2. Previously, the regulations for SQGs and LQGs were found in part 40 CFR section 262.34 and frequently sent the user to parts 265 and 268 for more information, as necessary. This final rule provides one section of the regulations to each category of generator (section 262.14 for VSQGs, section 262.16 for SQGs, and section 262.17 for LQGs) and moves the content of many of those sections that were previously cross referenced into part 262 so that the reader can find most requirements in one place for review and use.

These organization changes by the Agency result from the 2004 program evaluation of the hazardous waste generator program where the number one response from stakeholders was to improve the user-friendliness of the regulations. EPA believes that these changes along with other clarifications respond to those requests.

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Question: There are revisions to the labeling requirements for containers and tanks of hazardous waste. Has EPA taken into account the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) marking requirements when developing the new regulations?

Answer: The Agency looked very closely at the DOT and OSHA marking requirements when crafting the revised labeling requirements for containers and tanks of hazardous waste. EPA references these marking systems in our revisions as ways a generator can meet the new requirement to identify the hazards of the contents of the containers. EPA believes it is important that employees, transporters, downstream handlers, emergency personnel, and EPA and state inspectors know about the potential hazards of the contents in containers being accumulated, transported, and managed, whether on-site and/or off-site so that the hazardous wastes are managed in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

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Question: When will this rule become effective? Must my state adopt this rule?

Answer: This final rule will be effective at the federal level six months after promulgation. For those states and territories that are not authorized for the RCRA program (Alaska, Iowa, and the Indian Nations, and the territories Puerto Rico, American Samoa, N. Mariana and US Virgin Islands), the rule will go into effect on that day. Authorized states will be required to adopt those provisions that are more stringent than the current RCRA generator regulations in order to retain their authorized status. However, these provisions of the rule will not become effective in states authorized for the RCRA program until states have adopted the rule and become authorized for the new provisions. Authorized states will not be required to adopt those provisions of the rule that are less stringent or no more or less stringent than the current hazardous waste regulations.

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Question: Will EPA be providing further information on this final rule to the public?

Answer: EPA held two public webinars to present the main provisions in the final rule and to answer questions on the rule. The webinars occurred on November 30, 2016, from 2:00 to 3:30 pm Eastern time and December 5, 2016, from 2:00 to 3:30 pm Eastern time. Watch the recordings here.

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