EPA Fails to Regulate Toxic Air Emissions

Proposed rule proves to be inadequate


Cory Magnus, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500

Earthjustice filed comments late yesterday responding to EPA’s continuing attempt to avoid setting standards to control toxic air emissions from on site waste incinerators at tens of thousands of commercial and industrial facilities across the country. Significant clusters of these incinerators operate in Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, California, Maine and New York.*

Commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators burn a wide variety of wastes including solvents, glue, shredded tires, paper mill sludge, sludge from pollution control equipment, waste oils, used creosote, and waste gases from industrial processes. Not surprisingly, they emit a wide variety of highly toxic pollutants, including dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and lead. Health effects from exposure to these pollutants include cancer and birth defects.

In December 2000, EPA published a final rule for commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators. The rule unlawfully exempted the vast majority – all but approximately 100 units – from the highly protective emission standards that the Clean Air Act required. EPA did not claim that the exempted incinerators were safe. Rather, it used a technicality arguing that the law only required it to regulate incinerators and that the tens of thousands of exempted units weren’t incinerators because they were recovering energy from the combustion process.

“The goal of EPA’s loophole is to set weak standards that require only the application of generally available control technology, instead of the maximum achievable degree of reduction, which is what the Clean Air Act requires for all incinerators,” said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew.

EPA provided no notice or opportunity for the public to comment on the loophole. Under pressure from Earthjustice and other environmental groups, EPA conceded that its rule was defective and took it back in 2001, promising to provide the public with an opportunity to comment and to fix the rule’s flaws “with all due speed.”

More than thirty months later, however, EPA has done nothing to fix the rule’s flaws. Further, instead of giving the public a meaningful chance to weigh in on its loophole, EPA has confirmed that it intends to avoid setting protective standards for on-site incinerators.

“EPA’s course of conduct on this important public health issue has been irresponsible and dishonest,” said Pew. “Congress guaranteed Americans the strongest possible protection from incinerators’ toxic pollution. EPA is doing its best to defraud the public of that guarantee.”

* For information regarding locations of commercial and industrial waste incinerators in your area, contact Cory Magnus or Jim Pew at Earthjustice, 202-667-4500.



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