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EPA Dumps Misguided Rule Allowing Unregulated Hazardous Waste Burning

Environmental groups and communities praise effort to limit toxic air pollution.
December 2, 2009
Washington, DC — 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today plans to repeal a last-minute attempt by the previous administration that would have allowed polluters to burn dangerous hazardous waste without complying with important clean air laws. The rule, requested by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council, would have allowed more than 100,000 tons of hazardous waste to be burned without federal hazardous waste protections.

"This is a day for Americans to breathe a little easier," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. "EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson withdrew this dangerous loophole that would have increased toxic air emissions in communities across the country. It's heartening to see an administration that is committed to taking action to protect public health. Communities most impacted by this repeal are often already overburdened with toxic pollution, and we applaud the EPA for taking the first step towards hopefully cleaning up some of the dirtiest air polluters."

The so-called Emissions Comparable Fuels rule allowed industries to burn hazardous waste by calling it "fuel." In January 2009, the Bush EPA approved the rule and set a course towards allowing thousands of tons of hazardous waste to be burned without any pollution controls. According to a statement today from the EPA, the agency is withdrawing this rule "due to the difficulty of ensuring that emissions from burning [Emissions Comparable Fuel] are comparable to emissions from burning fuel oil, and the limited savings of burning ECF."

"Simply waving a regulatory wand will not change a dangerous, hazardous waste into something that can be safely burned in every incinerator and boiler across the country," Pew added.

"Rather than setting emissions standards for toxic air pollutants to conform with available technological solutions or to protect the public health, the previous administration had proposed a giant loophole that would allow polluters to evade control requirements," said Marti Sinclair, Chair of the Sierra Club's Clean Air Team. "Administrator Jackson is now moving us towards improved waste management and cleaner energy production, the best of both worlds."

"EPA made the right and just decision by withdrawing this dangerous rule that would have increased toxic dumping in low-income and people of color communities -- communities that already host a disproportionately large share of waste facilities," said Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center. "This decision gives us hope that the EPA will use science and public health concerns to trump the politics of pollution."

The Emissions Comparable Fuel rule was one of the Bush administrations "midnight rulemakings," last minute favors to industry as his administration prepared to leave office. But as far back as 2005, industry pushed the Bush administration to move forward with this rollback. In 2007, Earthjustice sent a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA asking for the names of the facilities that would be exempted from strict oversight of hazardous waste handling under the new rule. EPA responded with a list of 86 facilities spread across the country.

An Earthjustice analysis of the facilities revealed that nearly 90% had been subject to corrective action under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), indicating that they had mishandled hazardous waste in the past. EPA admitted in a subsequent letter to Congress that 31 of the facilities have been in "significant non-compliance" with some aspect of RCRA hazardous waste regulations.


Contact:

James Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 214
Marti Sinclair, Sierra Club, (513) 284-8142
Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Environmental Justice Resource Center, (404) 880-6911