Groups Fight Deregulation of Hazardous Waste

Companies can burn toxic waste without complying with hazardous waste laws


Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 237 

Environmental groups are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a Bush administration rule that will allow more than 100,000 tons a year of hazardous waste to be burned without regard to regulations that monitor such toxins. This last-minute rule from the Bush administration redefines the hazardous waste as “fuel,” allowing facilities that generate, store and transport it to avoid federal requirements for preventing leaks, spills, and toxic emissions.

Earthjustice is representing the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Sierra Club in their lawsuit.

“Here in Louisiana, we know all about the devastating health effects that result from exposure to hazardous chemicals,” said Marylee Orr, Executive Director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). “The whole point of regulating hazardous waste is to provide communities like ours with some protection against these poisons, and it is absolutely outrageous that the Bush administration would deprive us of that protection just to enrich the oil and chemical companies that generate this waste.” 

The rule will not only allow facilities that store and transport the exempted waste to avoid the tracking, permitting, closure and financial assurance requirements in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It also will allow the waste to be burned in ordinary boilers and process heaters instead of facilities designed and permitted to burn hazardous waste safely.

“This rule is wrongheaded,” said Marti Sinclair, chair of the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Team. “Americans are counting on cleaner, greener fuels, efficiency and alternative fuels to improve our health, environment, and economy. This Bush-era rule fails on all counts by allowing sloppy handling and disposal of dirty dangerous wastes. This lawsuit seeks to put an end to this dead-end gambit.”

Hazardous waste often contains extremely dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, exposure to which can cause cancer, heart, and lung disease, and other serious health impacts.

This rule allows waste that contains highly toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, both potent carcinogens, to be stored, transported and burned as fuel without the stringent safeguards imposed on hazardous waste

“I urge the Obama administration to agree with us that this rule is unlawful,” said James Pew, Earthjustice attorney. “It was irresponsible for the previous administration to pretend that it could make hazardous waste any less hazardous just by giving it another name.”

The Bush administration signed the controversial rule into law on Dec. 19, 2008, despite the protests of members of Congress and environmental groups who called on EPA to require further study and allow additional comment on the environmental records of the facilities that would handle and burn hazardous waste. This rule is the third of three midnight regulations from the Bush administration that exempt various hazardous wastes from regulation. Earthjustice and Sierra Club are also challenging EPA’s redefinition of solid waste, and Earthjustice is representing both Sierra Club and LEAN in their challenge of the hazardous waste gasification rule. Through these three rules the EPA has exempted nearly two million tons of hazardous waste annually from regulation, increasing human exposure to hundreds of toxins and carcinogens.

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