Surge in Environmental Citizen Suits Anticipated under Trump Administration

The Trump Administration has made rollback of environmental regulations a top priority.  Through the use of Executive Orders and the Congressional Review Act(CRA), the Administration has already undone significant Obama era regulations, including the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) and the Clean Power Plan.

The Trump Administration has also proposed significant budget cuts to EPA which could result in the reduction of 31% in federal funds to EPA and result in layoffs of 3,200 EPA workers. Budget cuts to State EPAs through reduction of state categorical grants have also been proposed. These cuts to federal funds could lead to reduced staff at State EPAs across the country.  

While the regulatory rollback and reduction in EPA staffs move forward, donations to major environmental groups around the country have surged since the election.  As reported in the Washington Times, the Sierra Club has reported an increase of 700% in donations since the election.  Across the board, green groups, like the NRDC are reporting a surge in donations.

Putting the New Money to Work

Whether it is the EPA budget reductions or EPA's exercising enforcement discretion, most anticipate EPA federal environmental enforcement will be on the decline under the Trump Administration. While EPA may not bring suits, many long time environmental legal practitioners anticipate a surge in green groups use of citizen suit provisions to fill the void on enforcement.  

Almost all of the major federal environmental statutes include a "citizen suit" provision that allows individuals and groups harmed by environmental violations to step in the shoes of EPA and sue companies to address violations and pay civil penalties.  Such provisions are included in the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act.  Why do many anticipate a surge in such suits?

  • Justify Donations- Green groups will show that increased donations are being put to work by taking enforcement to fill the void left by a less active EPA;
  • Easy Access to Monitoring Data- Permit compliance and monitoring data is readily accessible online through EPA databases like ECHO or state database counterparts.  This makes it increasingly easier for green groups to identify violations that have gone unaddressed;
  • Civil Penalties-  The citizen suit provisions allow groups to assess civil penalties.  Under law, any civil penalties must go to the U.S. Treasury.  However, groups have used creative approaches like Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) to direct funds to environmental improvement projects or funding local groups;
  • Attorney Fees- Perhaps the biggest incentive to utilize citizen suit provisions is the attorney fee provision.  Courts have established a low threshold for recovery of fees.  This makes it easy for groups to recover their investigatory and legal expenses in pursuing actions; and
  • Lack of Availability of the Diligent Prosecution Defense-  Not only will reductions in EPA staff and resources lead to less enforcement, it also makes it less likely that companies will be able to secure "friendly" administrative or judicial enforcement orders used to block citizen suits during notice periods.  The 60 or 90 day notice periods are meant to give time to allow for state or federal regulators to take appropriate action to resolve violations after receiving notice of a potential citizen suit (i.e. "diligent prosecution" defense).

"New" Citizen Suit Legal Theories

In is not just an anticipated increase in the number of citizen suit actions brought, most see an expansion of the types of harms such suits are used to address.  Across the country, green groups have already utilized long-standing citizen suit provisions to bring creative new causes of action, including:

  • Tennessee Riverkeeper, Inc. v 3M Company- Environmental group have brought a RCRA imminent and substantial endangerment claim against 3M for historical releases of teflon related substances (PFOA/PFOS) which are not currently regulated by EPA.  The Court denied a motion to dismiss the action;
  • Sierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC- Brought RCRA imminent and substantial endangerment claim for earthquakes in Oklahoma allegedly caused by disposal of water from oil and gas extraction;
  • Conservation Law Foundation v. ExxonMobil Corp.-  Alleging imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA due to climate change; and
  • Upstate Forever and Savannah Riverkeeper v. Kinder Morgan-  Claims brought under the Clean Water Act alleging passive migration of contaminated groundwater to surface water from an oil spill was a violation of the Clean Water Act.  The case was dismissed after the Judge ruled plaintiffs failed to allege facts demonstrating migration of groundwater constituted a "point source" under the Clean Water Act.

Suing EPA to Compel Non-Discretionary Acts

Green groups have always sued EPA to compel the Agency to promulgate regulations or take action that are required under environmental statutes. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) allows green groups to bring suit to compel an agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed. See, 5 U.S.C. Section 706(1).  

Because the Trump Administration will be less inclined to promulgate new environmental regulations, there will almost certainly be a major increase in suits against EPA to compel action. Unlike under the Obama Administration, which resolved many of these suits using consent orders, the Trump Administration will be far less inclined to settle.  This will inevitably lead to long and protracted litigation.  A recent article in the Legal Intelligencer by Kenneth J. Warren discusses the complications for Courts facing these suits to compel EPA to perform non-discretionary duites.

Ohio Senators Oppose Closing Midwest Regional Office of U.S. EPA

In the past several months, the Trump Administration has targeted U.S. EPA for major regulatory reform, massive budget cuts and a roll-back of Obama era regulations.  No Administration since the enactment of the landmark environmental statutes has gone as as far as the Trump Administration in attempting to change the landscape of environmental regulation.

After signing multiple executive orders and proposing a huge EPA budget cut, rumors are swirling as to what may be next. This creates a massive amount of regulatory uncertainty which is something businesses always say they hate.  This uncertainty extends to what the size and structure of what U.S. EPA will look like under the Trump Administration, including which Regional Offices will remain if the budget cuts and staff layoffs are implemented.  

Recently, one rumor causing significant uncertainty is whether EPA's Region V Office, located in Chicago, will be eliminated.  Region V covers Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota.   

Both Ohio Senators along with ten others in the Great Lakes congressional delegation wrote to EPA Administrator Pruitt strongly opposing closing of the Region V Office.  This from the Plain Dealer Article discussing the letter:

Recent reports that the U.S. EPA's Region 5 office, which is based in Chicago and includes Ohio among other Great Lake states, will be shut down has alarmed members of Ohio's Congressional delegation and other representatives of the five states of the Great Lakes region.

On Tuesday, Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, joined Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and a coalition of Democratic senators and house members in delivering a letter to EPA Director Scott Pruitt expressing their concern over the proposal, and demanding he not relocate Region 5's 1,500 employees to the Region 7 office in Lenexa, Kansas.

"Closing EPA's Region 5 office would have a devastating effect on those who call Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio home," the letter reads. "Therefore, we urge you to protect the environmental health and well-being of our states by keeping Region 5 intact and fully supporting its critical mission."

The focus of the letter is largely on consequences to public health and the environment, including the Great Lakes.  However, it is also worth noting the negative economic impacts elimination of the Regional Office would have on a region President Trump has stated he wants to help.

While delegated State EPAs handle most of the permitting for new factories or plant expansions, EPA plays a critical role in reviewing draft permits.  Until such permits are issued construction is limited and the new operations cannot commence.  Region V staff also address a myriad of issues that directly impact economic growth.  Without adequate staff permitting and decision making will slow.

The Midwest still has significant manufacturing.  President Trumps says he wants to keep or bring back U.S. manufacturing jobs.  Having adequate personnel to process permits and address other regulatory issues that impact economic development are critical to that effort.   

Let's hope this is just another rumor.  However, these types of rumors are not helpful due to the uncertainty they create.  For example, if a business is currently thinking of expanding or locating in the Midwest, the inability to secure timely permits or address other regulatory decisions that impact economic growth could cause businesses to rethink locating in the region.

JobsOhio Launches Site Selection Search Database

JobsOhio launched a new site selection tool called SiteOhio designed to provide easy access to businesses looking for locations to either develop new facilities or buy/lease existing buildings.  The easy to use web based tool allows you to search by the following parameters:

  • Available buildings of a certain size
  • Vacant land based on acreage
  • Businesses that may be for sale
  • Properties in specific communities by either city or county

The site selector tool allows you to compare filter properties by energy or broadband capability or labor force.  The tool is designed to allow businesses to more quickly identify sites that meet their needs.  

The site is also designed to certify sites as ready for development with available utilities, zoning, etc. The site hasn't yet been fully populated with available sites, but JobsOhio will ensure that happens over time. Communities will be encouraged to go through the JobsOhio site authentication process to have sites in their communities certified as ready.

The JobsOhio authentication process is designed to identify sites that are "ready to develop on day one, saving businesses time and money."  JobsOhio in its announcement described the authentication process as follows:

“Through the SiteOhio authentication process, each site undergoes a usability audit designed to vet sites with companies in mind. All due diligence studies look to ensure strict criteria are met, as well as utilities and other site assets are on site, with excess capacity and accessible for doing business,” JobsOhio said in announcing the tool.

The site doesn't include other information that may be key to determining suitability of a site, such as:

  • Taxes
  • Ease of permitting
  • Capacity of sewers
  • Availability of water

Implications for Brownfield Redevelopment

As JobsOhio stated in its announcement regarding the site selection tool, the purpose is to identify sites "ready to go on day one."  This certainly would not include brownfield properties.  A quick search of industrial properties by acreage shows a number of greenfield sites, typically industrial parks ready for development.  A quick search of available buildings identified mostly sites that would not qualify as traditional brownfield properties.  

While the tool is an excellent idea to expedite identification of readily available sites for development, the site selection tool will not encourage reuse of urban sites.  If the goal is of the site selector tool is to populate sites "ready to go on day one," then in order to encourage redevelopment of brownfield properties this would appear to encourage reconsideration of programs such as the Clean Ohio Redevelopment Ready Program.  Under this program, Clean Ohio funds were used to address environmental issues at brownfield sites upfront to facilitate reuse.

Slow Pace of Appointments and Restrictions on Decision Making at EPA

The Trump Administration has been slow to announce appointments to key positions within U.S. EPA. Administrator Scott Pruitt is in many ways  is operating on a island within the Agency. As reported in the New York Times, the Administration has not nominated any of the dozen key EPA senior positions:

At the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the administrator, was confirmed by the Senate last month, and he has hired a chief of staff and a few others. But the White House has yet to nominate anyone to fill another dozen key jobs requiring Senate confirmation, like the assistant administrators who oversee clean air and water regulation

At the same time Administrator Pruitt is restricting decision making authority throughout the ten Regional Offices.  As first noted on the blog Law and the Environment, the following memorandum was recently sent to Regional Offices:

Because the Presidentially-appointed Assistant Administrators and Regional Administrators have yet to assume their duties, for the next 30 days, the Administrator wishes to retain approval authority for Agency actions having significant regulatory and enforcement effect. The Administrator will rely on the Acting RA’s and AA’s to identify and send upward any proposed decisions or final agency actions for the Administrator’s review which, in the judgement of the Acting RA’s and AA’s would limit the flexibility of the States, limit energy resource use, impose significant costs on industry or commerce, or otherwise likely result in significant public attention on the proposed decisions or final agency actions (emphasis added)

The underlined language provides a broad description of the types of actions the Administrator expects to be sent for his review and approval.  This will certainly cause a slow down on decision making at the Agency.

These developments could have both good and bad implications for businesses.  It is likely the rulemaking and enforcement will be slowed.  However, for businesses working through permitting, compliance issues and settlement of enforcement actions, these developments could have the negative effective of slowing the pace of reaching a final resolution or obtaining a necessary permit. 

Ohio EPA Limits Use of Expedited Wetland/Stream Permitting to Certain Areas of the State

Developments that have small impacts to wetlands (typically around 1/2 acre or less) or streams (typically around 300 feet or less) have been able to qualify for expedited permitting known as Nationwide Permits (NWP).  Projects with greater impacts must obtain individual wetland or stream permits known as a 404 Army Corps Permit and 401 Ohio EPA Water Quality Certification (click here for Basics of Wetland Permitting).

Most developers try to arrange their development projects to stay under NWP thresholds if at all possible due to the time and cost savings associated with expedited permitting, which include:

  • Time Savings- NWP time frame 3-6 months versus 12-18 months for individual 404/401
  • Costs Savings- Permitting preparation range can be from $8,000 to $15,000 or more in cost savings just in permit preparation costs

The process for developing NWPs starts with the Army Corps of Engineers proposing NWP for the entire country under its 404 Clean Water Act authority.  Each individual state has the option of placing restrictions on usage of the NWPs under its 401 Clean Water Act authority.  The NWPs once finalized are effective for five years.

On March 17, 2017, Ohio EPA finalized its 401 water quality certification for the 2017 NWP.  The 2017 new NWPs are effective from March 19, 2017 through March 18, 2022.  

Under the new 401 water quality certification, Ohio EPA has placed significant limits on the use of the expedited permits for impacts to high quality streams in Ohio.  The Agency has developed a color coded map that designates areas into three categories:

  • Ineligible Areas (Purple)- Any impacts to streams in these areas are ineligible for coverage under NWP.  Any project with stream impacts in these areas must pursue an individual 404/401 permit.
  • Possibly Eligible Area (Yellow)-  Any impacts to streams in these areas require additional work before an applicant will be eligible for a NWP.  The applicant must:
    • Take pH values
    • Perform a habitat assessment- Qualitative Assessment Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI) or Headwater Habitat Evaluation Index (HHEI) assessment of the stream. 
  • Eligible Areas (No color code)- any proposed  impact to streams within the project area are eligible for NWP coverage.

 In Northeast Ohio, the much of the Rocky and Cuyahoga River watersheds are color coded purple (ineligible for NWPs).  These new restrictions will have significant consequences for developers and property owners throughout Ohio.

Federal EPA Budget Doesn't Reflect Stated Priorities

This week, President Trump released his Administration's first federal budget dubbed the "America First- A Blueprint to Make America Great Again."  Under the budget proposal, U.S. EPA current budget would be cut by 31% which amounts to a $2.6 billion dollar reduction.  

This leaves the Agency with $5.7 billion to run its programs which is the lowest amount funding provided U.S. EPA since 1990.  As reported by POLITICO, the proposed budget cuts would force U.S. EPA to layoff 3,200 workers. 

Since 1990, environmental regulation and science has advanced significantly.  As a result, numerous new programs have been added, including: climate change, protection of the Great Lakes, improving air and water quality standards.  

In the early years of environmental regulation the "easy" pollution reductions were achieved first. Additional reductions become much more challenging.  As a result, environmental permitting (NPDES, Title V, New Source Review) has become far more complex.

A drastically reduced workforce at the state and federal level will make implementation of these programs impossible and threaten to compromise the progress made over the last forty years.  The improvements to air and water quality since environmental regulations were implemented in the U.S. are well documented:

  • From 1970 to 2015, aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants alone dropped an average of 70 percent while gross domestic product grew by 246 percent. This progress reflects efforts by state, local and tribal governments; EPA; private sector companies; environmental groups and others.
  • In the forty years since passage of the Clean Water Act there has been dramatic improvement to U.S. waterways:
    • Only about a third of U.S. water was safe for swimming or fishing. Now, an estimated 65% pass the fishable and swimmable test;
    • Before passage of the Clean Water Act, the country was losing up to 500,000 acres of wetlands per year. With wetland regulations, average wetland losses have fallen below 60,000 acres per year; and
    • Before the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, 30% of tap water samples exceeded federal limits for certain chemicals. According to a 2012 EPA report, 90.7% of U.S. community water systems met “all applicable health-based standards” in 2011.

The President's EPA budget blueprint has a stated goal of shifting authority back to the states for primary implementation of the federal environmental regulations.  The Administration cites to waste as a result of duplication between state EPA's and U.S. EPA.  Here are some of the statements included in the budget blueprint regarding prioritizing delegation of authority and responsibility to the states:

  • Avoids duplication by concentrating EPA’s enforcement of environmental protection violations on programs that are not delegated to States, while providing oversight to maintain consistency and assistance across State, local, and tribal programs. This reduces EPA’s Office of Enforcement
    and Compliance Assurance budget to $419 million, which is $129 million below the 2017 annualized CR level;
  • Supports Categorical Grants with $597 million, a $482 million reduction below 2017 annualized CR levels. These lower levels are in line with the broader strategy of streamlining environmental protection. This funding level eliminates or substantially reduces Federal investment in State environmental activities that go beyond EPA’s statutory requirements.

State Categorical Grants fund core programs, such as implementation of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, hazardous waste regulation (RCRA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The budget blue print calls for a 45% reduction in support to the states to run these programs.  

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch discussed the potential impacts on Ohio EPA.  As noted in the article, federal funds make up a significant portion of Ohio EPA's operating budget.

After fees for permits, inspections and licenses, federal funding is the Ohio EPA's second-largest source of income, accounting for about $40 million of its $200 million budget.

In 2016, the U.S. EPA awarded its Ohio counterpart nearly $37 million for programs that maintain Superfund sites, restore wetlands, protect the Great Lakes and manage hazardous waste. 

The Administration is missing an opportunity to be more cost effective in implementation of environmental regulation.  The Administration is also losing a significant opportunity to be true to principles of federalism by entrusting the states with greater autonomy with regard to implementation of environmental program.  

If the Administration truly wants to shift power more toward the states, then drastic cuts to federal funds that allow states to implement those federal programs undermines that important policy goal. The danger exists that without adequate funding states cannot meet the increased demands.  In the years to follow, the states inability to be to handle the increased burden will be used by those who champion increased federal oversight to justify taking authority away from the states.  

Confustion Regarding Wetland Nationwide Permits and Regulatory Freeze

On January 20th, President Trump's Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus issued a Memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies imposing a regulatory freeze. There appears to be a lot of confusion among environmental attorneys and consultants as to whether the freeze applies to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) Nationwide Permits (NWP).  

NWP are authorizations to fill wetlands and/or impact streams for certain projects that have limited impacts.  NWP are general permits that allow projects to bypass more complicated and costly individual permitting.  The NWPs are a key authorization necessary to allow projects to move forward. Without effective NWP a project only alternative was to seek an individual 404 permit which takes months.

The freeze applies to recently enacted regulations that had not taken effect by the date of the memorandum.  The new NWP were published in rule on January 6, 2017 but will not be effective until March 19, 2017.  Based upon the publication date, the NWP regulation would be subject to the freeze.

Federal agencies can petition the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for a special exemption from the regulatory freeze.  The ACOE filed for and was granted an exemption so the 2017 NWP will go into effect on Marcy 19, 2017 which was the original effective date.  The ACOE issued a notification last week that it was granted an exemption from the freeze.

I have seen e-mails and memorandum circulating indicating NWP may not be available this spring due to the freeze.  That now appears not to be the case.  

[Photo courtesy Junior Libby]

Thirty EPA Rules Frozen by New Executive Action

On January 20th, Reince Preibus, President Trumps Chief of Staff, issued a broad regulatory freeze memorandum entitled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” halting federal rules that had not yet become effective. All rules covered by the memorandum are suspended for 60 days (March 21, 2017). On January 26, 2017, EPA published a list of 30 rules subject to the freeze.

The vast majority of EPA rules temporarily frozen are actually rules that would lessen regulatory burdens or approve plans for meeting existing standards.  These include: a grant of primacy to Kentucky's Underground Injection Control Program, numerous air plans for compliance with ozone or PM 2.5 air quality standards and attainment designations for areas that now meet air quality standards.

The most significant rule affected by the freeze include:

  • Amendments to EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP)
  • Renewable Fuel Standard's renewable volume obligations
  • Pesticides; Certification of Pesticide Applicators

EPA's recent amendments to the Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule titled "Accidental Release Prevention Requirements:  Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act."  The RMP amendments, which will be discussed in a later post, increase emergency preparedness requirements at some 12,500 facilities that handle chemicals or hazardous substances.

Another rule impacted is the Renewable Fuel Standard's renewable volume obligations.  As discussed in a recent Bloomberg article, the biofuel industry struck a major victory when the Obama Administration raised 2017 quotas- Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOS)- to new record levels. As discussed in the Bloomberg article, the freeze triggered a sell-off of biofuel credits.

Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), tracking compliance with 2017 ethanol consumption targets, plummeted 23 percent to 46 cents a piece on Wednesday, the lowest since November 2015, broker data compiled by Bloomberg show.  The credits are attached to each gallon of biofuel.  Once a refiner blends ethanol or biodiesel into petroleum, they can keep the credit to show adherence to the program or trade it to another party.

Finally, the final rule Pesticides; Certification of Pesticide Applicators was also frozen.  EPA states the purpose of the rule was to ensure that persons using certain types of pesticides- Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs)- were competent to use the product.  The rule creates new certification requirements for persons who want to use RUPs.  According to EPA, the most acutely toxic pesticides or those needing to be applied with special care are classified as RUPs.

Conclusion

While the freeze did have a major impact on the RMP rules, pesticide certification and biofuels, the vast majority or rules affected are likely beneficial.  These majority rules demonstrate compliance with federal air quality standards, allows states to take over implementation of regulatory programs or  approves air quality compliance plans developed by States.

After the temporary freeze most if not all of the rules will likely move forward.  The most likely rules that could be targeted by future Congressional action include the RMP amendments and raise in biofuel volume requirements. 

Ignoring the Need for a Permit Can Lead to Jail Time

U.S. EPA released its December Environmental Crimes Bulletin.  One notable case highlighted involved the failure to  obtain and industrial pre-treatment permit for discharges to the municipal wastewater system.  As set forth in the bulletin, U.S. EPA describes the case as follows:

Thomas H. Faria, Sheffield’s former president and chief executive officer, who pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Water Act on July 8, 2014. From at least April 2004 to May 2011, under Faria’s leadership, Sheffield discharged polluted industrial wastewater from its New London factory into the municipal sewage system without the required permit and industrial wastewater treatment system. As a condition of his guilty plea, Faria resigned from the company on March 7, 2014, and no longer has any role in its operations or management. On February 13, 2015, Judge Thompson sentenced Faria to three years of probation, a $30,000 fine, and 300 hours of community service. 

As described in the bulletin, U.S. EPA states that the former president of the company was informed by consultants and its own employees that a permit and some pre-treatment was needed to legally continue the indirect discharge of industrial wastewater into the municipal system.  

Evidence the president had knowledge is what likely made U.S. EPA pursue this as a criminal case. However, keep in mind that the Clean Water Act has a criminal negligence standard. Therefore, U.S. EPA has the ability to pursue criminal charges even if it doesn't have specific evidence that company personnel were aware of permitting requirements.  

Here is the criminal negligence provision in 33 U.S.C. § 1319

(c)Criminal penalties

(1)Negligent violationsAny person who—
(A)
negligently violates section 131113121316131713181321(b)(3)1328, or 1345 of this title, or any permit condition or limitation implementing any of such sections in a permit issued under section 1342 of this title by the Administrator or by a State, or any requirement imposed in a pretreatment program approved under section 1342(a)(3) or 1342(b)(8) of this title or in a permit issued under section 1344 of this title by the Secretary of the Army or by a State; or
(B)
negligently introduces into a sewer system or into a publicly owned treatment works any pollutant or hazardous substance which such person knew or reasonably should have known could cause personal injury or property damage or, other than in compliance with all applicable Federal, State, or local requirements or permits, which causes such treatment works to violate any effluent limitation or condition in any permit issued to the treatment works under section 1342 of this title by the Administrator or a State;
shall be punished by a fine of not less than $2,500 nor more than $25,000 per day of violation, or by imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or by both. If a conviction of a person is for a violation committed after a first conviction of such person under this paragraph, punishment shall be by a fine of not more than $50,000 per day of violation, or by imprisonment of not more than 2 years, or by both.

 

EPA Enacts Major Overhaul to Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements

Late last year U.S. EPA enacted the "Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule" which constitutes a major overhaul of the federal hazardous waste regulations (RCRA) that apply to any generator of hazardous waste.  The new rule impacts thousands of businesses, including even small generators of hazardous waste.  EPA estimates that between 424,100 and 676,900 facilities fall under regulation by the rule.

It is possible that the Trump Administration may try to undo the controversial rule as detailed in the previous post.  However, since the final rule has been published in the Federal Register (81 Fed. Reg. 85732) with an effective date of May 30, 2017 it will be more difficult for the new Administration to revoke the rule.

As to timing of these changes, the RCRA program is primarily administered by the states. Therefore, these major changes will not go into effect in Ohio or other delegated states until they are adopted in state rules which will likely not occur until sometime in 2018.

Here is a summary of some of the more notable changes.

Background on Generator Classifications

Generators of hazardous waste may accumulate certain quantities of waste and store hazardous waste on-site without triggering the need to obtain a permit as a Transporter Storage Disposal Facility (TSDF).  The ability to avoid TSDF status and be exempt from needing a permit has been a huge carrot for generators as it avoids more costly cleanup requirements (i.e. RCRA Closure and RCRA Corrective Action) as well as other more stringent regulatory requirements.

The chart below shows the accumulation and storage requirements under federal law for Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQG), Small Quantity Generators (SQG) and Large Quantity Generators (LQG):

Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements

VSQG SQG LQG
Monthly Generation (Per calendar month) up to 2.2 lbs acute hazardous waste or less than 220 lbs of hazardous waste (about 1/2 of a 55 gallon drum) up to 2.2 lbs of acute hazardous waste or between 220 to 2,200 lbs of hazardous waste (about five 55 gallon drums) up to 2.2 lbs of acute hazardous waste or 2,200 or more lbs of hazardous waste
Total Accumulation On-site up to 2.2 lbs of acute or up to 2,200 lbs of hazardous waste up to 2.2 lbs acute hazardous waste or between 220 lbs to 13,200 lbs of hazardous waste (thirty 55 gallon drums) up to 2.2 lbs of acute hazardous waste or equal to or greater than 13,200 lbs of hazardous waste
Accumulation Time None 180 days or 270 days if TSDF is more than 200 miles away 90 days

Click here for a link to an a detailed reference chart from Ohio EPA on RCRA Generator Requirements.  While the quantities and time periods applicable to the three categories of generators remained largely unchanged, the new rule contains provisions regarding the quantity of residues from cleanup of hazardous waste that can be generated under each generator classification.

Adopted- Loss of Exemption for Certain RCRA Violations

In the newly adopted rule, EPA places the RCRA generator regulations into two categories:

  1. Independent Requirements- a violation of regulatory requirement that subjects the violator to enforcement; or
  2. Condition for Exemption- regulations that must be met or the generator may lose its exemption from permitting requirements as a TSDF.  An example of regulations that are "conditions for exemption" include the generation and accumulation limits in the above chart.  However, the new rule expands this category to include other regulations.

The possibility of losing the exemption from TSDF requirements for more minor violations has huge implications for businesses who generate even small quantities of hazardous waste as well as those service companies that transport hazardous waste.  

In the preamble to the rule, EPA asserts this is not a major change because the federal EPA and delegated states maintain enforcement discretion.  However, with so much at stake with regard to triggering TSDF status EPA's statements in the Preamble provide little comfort to businesses.

Adopted- New Generator Classification- Very Small Quantity Generator (VSQG)

All regulations previously applicable to Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs) will now apply to VSQGs.  

Adopted- Definition of Generator Knowledge and Testing Requirements

The new rule contains definitions of each generator classification- VSQG, SQG and LQG.  The new rule adds more detail as to how to determine whether a waste is deemed hazardous or non-hazardous using the company's knowledge of their processes that generate the waste (i.e. "generator knowledge") or through testing of the waste.

For potential characteristic hazardous waste, under the new rule generators must make the determination anytime in the course of the waste's management if its properties change.  Business commented that this could require constant re-evaluation of characteristic hazardous waste.

Adopted- Episodic Generation

One of the potential benefits of the rule is the flexibility provided to remain in the VSQG or SQG classification even if you have a one time episode which would push you into the higher generator classification (i.e. episodic events).  

A VSQG or SQG can have one episodic event per year (with an opportunity for a second).  The waste generated during the episodic event will not be counted toward your generation classification.  

Before taking advantage of the episodic generation provision, the company must notify either U.S. EPA or the delegated state program at least thirty (30) days prior to initiating a "planned episodic event" (i.e. periodic maintenance like a tank clean out).   Or, notify within 72 hours of an unplanned event (i.e. production upset conditions, spills, acts of nature).   The event must conclude within sixty (60) days (i.e. the waste must be taken off-site).

There are special provisions for VSQGs- a) must maintain a RCRA ID number; b) manifest the waste; c) label episodic waste containers; d) identify a emergency coordinator; and e) maintain records associated with the episodic event.

Adopted-  New Emergency Response Requirements

All generators must document that they have attempted to make arrangements with local emergency responders and keep such documentation in the facility's operating record. New and existing LQG must submit "quick reference guides" with key information regarding waste managed at their site to local responders.  

Adopted- Re-Notification of SQG Status

Under current rules, SQG must only notify EPA or the delegated state one time of their SQG status. The new rule requires re-notification every four years unless the state has more frequent notification requirements.  However, U.S. EPA delayed this provision until 2021 to allow states to update their reporting forms.

Adopted- Flexibility for VSQG to Send Waste to LQG under Common Control

The new rule provide greater flexibility to VSQGs allowing them to send hazardous waste to a LQG which is under control by the same company to consolidate the waste before it is sent to a RCRA TSDF. 

Adopted- New Labeling Requirements

Under the rule, EPA will require all containers, tanks, drip pads and containment buildings to be labeled with information pertaining to the the hazardous of the hazardous waste being accumulated.  This labeling requirement includes to satellite accumulation areas and central accumulation areas.  The enhanced labeling requirements do not require the label to include the identity of the contents in the container.

Prior to sending hazardous waste off-site to a TSDF, containers must be marked with the applicable RCRA waste codes or use a bar-coding system that performs the same function.

Adopted- Webinars and Video Courses Deemed Acceptable Training

The new rule will allow generators to satisfy their personnel training requirements through computer-based and electronic training sessions instead of classroom or on-the job training.

Not Adopted- Record Keeping Requirements for all Non-Hazardous Waste Determinations

Under the current rules, every business that generates a solid waste must evaluate the waste to determine if should be classified and managed as a hazardous waste.  Under current rules,  Large Quantity Generators (LQG) and Small Quantity Generators (SQG) must only keep those records when the determination shows the waste is a hazardous waste.  As part of the Generator Improvements Rule, EPA proposed to expand the record keeping requirement to all records pertaining to evaluation of a waste, even when a waste was determined to be non-hazardous.  EPA argued that it has found that generators fail to make accurate hazardous waste determinations 10% to 30% of the time.

If implemented, this would have amounted to a huge expansion of record keeping requirements. The proposal was strongly opposed by businesses during the public comment period.  EPA decided to drop the requirement in the rule. However, while it elected not to finalize this requirement, EPA noted in the preamble to the rule that maintaining records of any determination a waste was non-hazardous was considered a "best management practice."