Resource Conservation & Recovery Act
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) was enacted in 1976 to address municipal and industrial solid waste generated nationwide. After several amendments, the Act as it stands today governs the management of solid and hazardous waste and underground storage tanks (“USTs”).
The Act’s goals are to protect human health and the environment from the hazards posed by waste disposal; to conserve energy and natural resources through waste recycling and recovery; to reduce or eliminate the amount of waste generated, including hazardous waste; and to ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally safe manner. RCRA is an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965. RCRA has been amended several times; a major amendment was the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) of 1984.RCRA has three programs — solid waste, hazardous waste, and USTs.
Managing Solid Waste — RCRA Subtitle D
Subtitle D prescribes solid waste management practices that maximize the reuse of recoverable material and foster resource recovery. The term solid waste includes traditional nonhazardous solid wastes, such as municipal garbage, and some hazardous wastes. Subtitle D regulates solid wastes, including those hazardous wastes that are excluded from the Subtitle C regulations (e.g., household hazardous waste), and hazardous waste generated by conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs). The solid waste management program regulates municipal solid waste, which is generated by businesses and households and is typically collected and disposed of in municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLFs). Subtitle D includes technical criteria for MSWLFs to ensure that landfills are fully protective of human health and the environment.
Managing Solid Waste — RCRA Subtitle C
The hazardous waste management program, Subtitle C, prescribes regulations to ensure that hazardous waste is managed safely from the moment it is generated to the moment it is finally disposed of. Subtitle C includes procedures to facilitate the proper identification and classification of hazardous waste. Waste recycling and recovery are major components of RCRA's goals, but they must be implemented consistently with proper hazardous waste management. RCRA regulations ensure safe hazardous waste recycling and facilitate the management of commonly recycled waste streams.
Subtitle C includes standards for those facilities that generate (i.e., produce), transport, treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste. These include requirements for general facility management and specific hazardous waste management units. The provisions for treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) include additional precautions to protect groundwater and air resources. The hazardous waste management program includes safeguards to protect human health and the environment from hazardous waste that is disposed of on the land (these safeguards are known as the land disposal restrictions (LDR)) or burned.
Because EPA wants to limit hazardous waste treatment, storage, or disposal to those facilities that can adequately protect human health and the environment, there are requirements that facility owners and operators obtain a hazardous waste permit from the EPA and/or state agency. Since hazardous waste management may result in spills or releases into the environment, Subtitle C contains provisions governing corrective action, or the cleanup of contaminated air, groundwater, and soil.
RCRA grants EPA broad enforcement authority to require all hazardous waste management facilities to comply with the regulations. Subtitle C contains provisions to allow EPA to authorize state governments to implement and enforce the hazardous waste regulatory program.
Managing USTs — RCRA Subtitle I
The RCRA Subtitle I UST regulatory program regulates underground tanks storing petroleum or hazardous substances. To protect human health and the environment from threats posed by releases from such tanks, the program governs tank design, construction, installation, operation, release detection, release response, corrective action, closure, and financial responsibility.
Many UST owners and operators must secure loans from financial and other institutions to comply with environmental regulations, such as UST upgrading and maintenance requirements. The Subtitle I program contains specific provisions to protect lending institutions from liability that they might incur from extending such loans.
Subtitle I contains provisions to allow EPA to approve state government implementation and enforcement of the UST regulatory program. The expense and threats of contamination from leaking USTs necessitate efficient, effective, and thorough cleanups. In order to guarantee that such cleanups will be conducted in an efficient and protective manner, Subtitle I also established a Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund to facilitate cleanup oversight and guarantee cleanups when the responsible owner and operator cannot take action, or when the situation requires emergency action.
Miscellaneous Statutory Provisions
RCRA contains provisions for EPA to encourage recycling and promote the development of markets for materials with recovered materials content. Medical waste can pose similar threats to human health and the environment. RCRA established a medical waste tracking program to ensure that such waste is properly handled from the moment it is generated to the moment it is disposed of. This program was a demonstration program that began on June 22, 1989, and ended on June 22, 1991. At this time, the program has expired and no federal EPA tracking requirements are currently in effect. Most states, however, have a medical waste tracking program.
RCRA’s Relationship to Other Environmental Statutes
The RCRA regulations interact with other environmental statutes such as the Clean Air Act (CAA); Clean Water Act (CWA); the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA); the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA); the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA); the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA); and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or Superfund, has a close relationship with RCRA in that both programs are designed to protect human health and the environment from the dangers of hazardous waste. While these programs are similar, they have different regulatory focuses. RCRA mainly regulates how waste should be managed to avoid potential threats to human health and the environment. CERCLA, on the other hand, is relevant primarily when mismanagement occurs/has occurred. That is when there has been a release or a substantial threat of a release in the environment of a hazardous substance, or a pollutant or contaminant, that presents an imminent and substantial threat to human health.
Public Involvement in RCRA
RCRA contains public participation and involvement provisions. RCRA includes provisions to facilitate public participation in the permitting, corrective action, and state authorization processes. The Administrative Procedures Act (APA) involves the public every time the Agency issues a rulemaking that establishes or changes regulatory provisions.