The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to revisit a loophole that stripped federal oversight of companies that handle 1.5 million tons of hazardous waste each year. The loophole allows any company that claims to recycle hazardous waste to opt out of safety and inspection requirements. Facilities with alarming records of environmental damage were quick to take advantage of this Bush-era exemption, and the communities most at risk have been predominantly low-income and communities of color.
To settle a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, the EPA has agreed to undertake a new rulemaking process to address these concerns. In this settlement agreement the EPA agreed to take final action on the rulemaking no later than Dec. 31, 2012.
"This is a great first step toward restoring safeguards that should always be in place at hazardous waste facilities," said Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen. "This administration has promised to look out for the vulnerable communities where hazardous wastes often end up, and we expect EPA to deliver on that promise with protective new rules."
During the Clinton administration, an executive order was handed down that required federal agencies to consider how their actions disproportionally impact low-income and communities of color. In July 2009, the EPA agreed to undertake a comprehensive environmental justice analysis—the first of its kind—to assess the threat posed to low-income and communities of color by deregulation of hazardous waste recycling.
"We are pleased that those most directly affected by exposure to these hazardous wastes are finally being heard," said Vernice Miller-Travis, vice chair of the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communites. "This settlement agreement is a clear reflection that this EPA is turning a new tide and listening directly to the communities who were ignored for far too long."
Additional Resources: List and analysis of some unregulated facilities around the country
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