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EPA Proposed Rule: Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Are we wedded to them or just going steady?"

An Editorial: By Tom Boecher, CHMM

PSARA Technologies, Inc.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the proposed Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements rule in the Federal Register on September 25, 2015.  The proposed rule will update the existing hazardous waste generator regulations, making them easier to understand, providing greater flexibility in hazardous waste management, and tightening regulations that are considered by many professionals in the industry to be incomplete or ambiguous. The EPA modifications to the existing regulations are intended to improve generator compliance without adding any additional work to do so.

Entities who may be affected by this rule include virtually every sector of the industrial environment including, but not limited to: printing, petroleum refining, chemical manufacturing, plastics and resin manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, paint and coatings, iron and steelmaking, secondary smelting and refining, metal manufacturing, electroplating, circuit board manufacturing, and automobile manufacturing, among other industries.

Several of the regulation’s modifications focus on replacing wording, including “conditionally exempt small quantity generator” (CESQG) with the phrase “very small quantity generator.”  This appears to standardize new terms with existing terminology relating to the other two generator classifications [small quantity generator (SQG) and large quantity generator (LQG)]. One of the reasons for the nomenclature modification may be due to confusion that has resulted from small and large quantity generator exemptions with respect to the CESQG status. Additionally, the proposed rule would move the CESQG regulations currently found in Section 261.5 to 40 CFR Part 262 so that the generator regulations are all in one place.

Modifications to existing rules that pertain to the identification and listing of hazardous waste are also proposed. Four key aspects of the proposed rule changes include 1) clarification of what generator categories apply to entities who generate both acute and non-acute hazardous waste in the same calendar month; 2) the mixing of non-hazardous waste with hazardous waste and how they affect the CESQG and SQG categories; 3) making waste management more efficient and improving environmental protection by allowing CESQGs the ability to send their hazardous waste to LQGs that are operated and controlled by the same person; and 4) a requirement for biennial reporting for facilities that recycle but do not store hazardous waste before recycling.

Changes to closure regulations for hazardous waste generators under Section 262.35 are also proposed. The changes are intended to fill gaps related to the lack of regulatory statutes on how waste generation is considered on site (waste accumulated in containment buildings only to waste accumulated in containers, drip pads, and tanks). Additionally, existing provisions state that containers holding ignitable or reactive wastes must be placed 50 feet from the site’s property lines. In many local or urban environments, this may be problematic due to property size constraints. EPA’s desire is to allow such generators to apply for waivers from this requirement that could be granted by local fire and emergency management officials.

A propose change to 40 CFR Part 263 involves the revision of the marking and labeling standards for transporters to be consistent with the proposed marking and labeling standards for containers for SQGs, LQGs, and satellite accumulation areas.

 

Traditionally, problems related to waste generator classifications occur when facilities are tasked with disposing of hazardous waste in a month where it normally doesn’t accumulate that level of waste. For example, in the event a facility cleans a tank of product and then must dispose of the tank residue or rinse water as hazardous waste (a function that occurs once every five years), the facility must submit designations for a higher generator status than would be necessary during normal business operations. This provision would allow the facility to keep their original generator status, provided certain conditions are met during the exceedance process. It is an exemption proposed for a one-time event per calendar year.

As a result of the EPA’s proposal, debate may spark, especially if these rules are enacted. Various sides of the waste management spectrum may have questions as to whether existing state hazardous waste programs will be required to adopt the new changes. State programs must be as or more stringent than the federal standards. However, for individual states, the proposed rules may be less stringent than the current laws within those states, thus creating confusion and liability (and possibly unnecessary expense) when considering which rules are to be followed.

The proposed changes would affect most classes of waste generators, and many interests in general industry and the legal community fear the modifications will not be viewed as improvements to the regulations at all, specifically with regard to the amount of re-reporting or new reporting a waste generator in the SQG or LGG status will need to perform. These skeptics argue that the new rules will create more work, more interpretation, and conversely, more liability.

The ability to gauge benefits or detriments for the proposed changes remains to be seen until the regulations are formally promulgated and put into use.  Until these laws are effective and subject to penalty for non-compliance as well as how they will compare to various State hazardous waste rules that may be more stringent than the federal updates,  it will be hard to gauge impact and the commitment of employee time and resource necessary for compliance.

The comment period on the proposed rulemaking ended on December 24, 2015. Over the next several months, the EPA will be reviewing and evaluating public comments to determine if changes in the proposed rule are warranted. EPA expects that the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements rule will be finalized in 2016 and will become effective at the federal level six months after promulgation. Until then, it remains unclear whether these proposed changes are “for better or worse…”

 

 

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