Rule Allowing Burning of Hazardous Waste May Be Overturned

The U.S. EPA recently announced a plan to overturn a rule allowing unregulated burning of hazardous waste.

“Administrator Jackson is now moving us towards improved waste management and cleaner energy production, the best of both worlds,” said Marti Sinclair, who chairs the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Team.

Photo: Flickr/Mollivan Jon

According to Earthjustice, 31 of the 86 facilities affected by the ECF rule have been in "significant non-compliance" with some aspect of regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Photo: Flickr/Mollivan Jon

The Emissions Comparable Fuels (ECF) rule took effect on Jan. 20, 2009, allowing industries to burn fuel that would otherwise be regulated as hazardous waste, but that generates emissions comparable to fuel oil.

In official EPA documents detailing the proposed withdrawal, the EPA notes that ECF “appears to be better regarded as being a discarded material and regulated as hazardous waste.”

According to the EPA, the rule has come under scrutiny for allowing waste that should be regulated as hazardous to bypass this system and for its difficulty in administration.

Whether the resulting changes will also effect air quality in the areas where these fuels are burned has yet to be seen. According the EPA, “Emissions from burning ECF under the exclusion will be no greater than emissions from the current practice of burning the hazardous secondary materials in hazardous waste combustors. This is because the conditions for burning ECF are at least as stringent as the current requirements for burning hazardous waste fuels.”

However, supporters of overturning the ruling believe the practice does have detrimental effects on communities. “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 Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

“This decision gives us hope that the EPA will use science and public health concerns to trump the politics of pollution,” said Bullard.

The rule is open for public comment at this time.

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