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EPA Cancels Invitations to Its Own Program: The Agency's New Hazardous Waste Combustion Strategy

July 1994

Citation: ELR 10380

Author: Philip L. Comella

On May 18, 1993, Carol M. Browner, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced a new federal hazardous waste policy.1 Noting that incinerators and industrial furnaces, i.e., cement kilns, annually burn almost five million tons of hazardous waste, Ms. Browner let it be known that EPA would soon change how things stood. In her announcement, she outlined a new strategy, based on increasing the incentives for waste reduction and slowing growth in the number of combustion units. EPA would encourage waste reduction, Ms. Browner said, through new waste minimization guidelines, and would discourage incineration by focusing Agency resources on permitting existing facilities and giving low priority to new permit applications. Furthermore, she said, EPA would use its existing authorities to incorporate more stringent emission controls for particulate matter and dioxin into new permits and require risk assessments and increased public involvement in the permitting process. In addition, Ms. Browner said she would convene a committee to evaluate the role of combustion in the federal hazardous waste strategy. "Treatment and disposal," EPA said in a follow-up notice, "are alternatives of last resort to waste minimization, not substitutes for it."2

Standing alone, Ms. Browner's announcement of a new federal hazardous waste policy appears sensible and decisive. Surely, waste reduction should be the top priority in a waste management strategy. Reducing waste generation at the source minimizes potential adverse environmental impacts, decreases a generator's future cleanup obligations, and lowers waste disposal costs. In addition, no one can reasonably argue that hazardous waste incineration or energy recovery should not be conducted in an environmentally protective manner, and only after public notice and comment on specific operating conditions.

Mr. Comella is Of Counsel at Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson, Chicago, Illinois. He received his J.D. from the National Law Center at George Washington University in 1983, and his B.A. from Beloit College in 1978.

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