Sunday, December 11, 2016

Five Things Due Diligence Auditors Should Know About New RCRA Rules

The Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule (Federal Register Volume 81, Issue 228 , November 28, 2016) includes some new elements to the RCRA – some of which are more stringent compared to the existing rules and some less stringent. The rule becomes effective on May 30, 2017. The rule will affect all facilities that generate hazardous waste, regardless of size. Therefore, EH&S auditors should be aware of these rule changes and the clarifications the rule provides, especially in the Preamble, on EPA's interpretations of existing RCRA requirements for hazardous waste generators.

All auditors that review hazardous waste compliance as part of due diligence should review the final rule, including the Preamble. Some key points are:

1 - Clarifications on EPA's Expectations On Identifying & Handling Hazardous Waste.

The final rule provides clarifications auditors can refer to on how generators are expected to identify, characterize and manage wastes. Although this does not change existing requirements, the Preamble to the Rule discusses the accuracy of waste determinations, where in the process wastes should be characterized/sampled, and other technical clarifications auditors need to be aware of. Interestingly, EPA estimates that 20-30% of generators are currently not in compliance with existing rules on identifying and characterizing waste streams.
Because these clarifications to existing rules do not change rules, they are already "effective".

2 - Independent Requirements verses Conditions of Exemption.

For auditors, some of the more interesting portions of the Rule's Preamble provide a detailed discussion of "Independent Requirements" and "Conditions of Exemption". Although this provides useful clarifications to the existing RCRA rules, it does not change existing requirements. It also provides needed clarifications on how the different types of requirements are applied by EPA to RCRA enforcement action.
In summary, independent requirements are rules that apply to all hazardous waste generators, regardless of generator status. For example, the requirement to identify hazardous wastes. Conditions of Exemption are requirements generators can chose to meet in order to avoid more stringent requirements. For example, LQGs store wastes on-site for less than 90 days to avoid being regulated as a TSDF. They could elect to store wastes longer than 90 days, but would then be held to the requirements that apply to TSDFs.

3 - Sections of RCRA Rule Have Been Reorganized.

One of the purposes of the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule is to make the requirements for hazardous waste generators more accessible and logical, especially for new generators. To accomplish this, EPA has reorganized the sections of the RCRA generator rules, and many existing sections have been renumbered.
The practical implications of this change for auditors is that regulatory citations referencing the Federal rules in audit reports may change. Although not required, authorized States may opt to reorganize sections of State rules.
One of the challenges facing auditors will be auditing against State rules that incorporate portions of the Federal RCRA rules by reference, especially if references to 40 CFR are no longer accurate.

4 - Effective Date Will Have Limited Immediate Impact

The effective date of the final rule is May 30, 2017. However, the number of generators who will be subject to the Rule on that date is limited. The Rule will be effective on May 30th only for generators in States or Territories that do not have authorized RCRA programs, including:
  • Iowa
  • Alaska
  • Tribal Lands
For States with authorized RCRA programs, the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule (or portions thereof) will only become effective once State programs are updated. Auditors should be aware of one caveat - some States have incorporated Federal RCRA rules into their State rules by reference. Therefore, in those States the potential exists that revisions to the Federal Rule can be immediately effective.

5 - States Will Only Be Required To Enact Limited Changes To State Programs ; Differences Between State Programs May Increase.

The final Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule includes elements that are more stringent compared to the existing rules and some elements that are less stringent (allow more flexibility). Authorized States will only be required to incorporate portions which are more stringent, and have the discretion to include, or not, those portions which are less stringent than existing State rules.
Therefore, environmental compliance auditors need to be cognizant that the differences between State program requirements for hazardous waste generators may increase as State programs are updated.

Click here for more detailed summary on the key changes to the RCRA requirements for hazardous waste generators.

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