RCRA State Authorization

Posted on 12/27/2011 by James Griffin

Did you know that each U.S. state can enforce its own hazardous waste program and that each State program is unique and can vary from Federal standards?
When Congress first gave the U.S. EPA authority to regulate hazardous waste in the United States (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976), they included provisions for each U.S. state to establish and run an independent program of hazardous waste regulation that would operate in lieu of enforcement of Federal standards by the U.S. EPA.
Section 3006 of RCRA encourages each state to develop its own program for managing hazardous waste. As long as the state’s program is “equivalent to” and “consistent with” Federal standards, the EPA must “authorize” the state to implement its program “in lieu of” the Federal program.
When a state is “authorized,” it means that all generators, transporters, and other hazardous waste facilities in that state must comply with the laws, rules, and other requirements of the state rather than those of the U.S. EPA. Even the EPA itself must enforce State laws and rules in place of its own regulations when acting in an authorized state.
Delegating regulatory primacy to the state also means that new rules from the EPA don’t take effect in authorized states until the state itself adopts them[1]. While authorized states are not obligated to adopt new exclusions, allowances, reliefs, or exceptions, they are required to adopt new requirements in order to keep their programs “at least as stringent” [40 CFR Part 271] as Federal standards. If states don’t keep their programs “at least as stringent” as Federal standards, the EPA can revoke the state’s authorization, and all hazardous waste activity in the state becomes subject to inspection, oversight, and enforcement by the U.S. EPA only.
When the EPA creates new, more stringent rules, the state must incorporate those new requirements, or some consistent equivalent, within one year. This time limit is extended to two years if the State legislature needs to get involved.
Because state standards aren’t allowed to be less stringent than Federal standards, the most common variations between State and Federal regulations are things like fewer exceptions, new categories of regulated waste, and additional requirements for storage, transportation, or bookkeeping.
If you would like to know more about state differences, you could visit our workshops on hazardous waste management in California, Texas, and New York, or, if you are a Lion Member, you can view the state-by-state reviews in our Lioncasts program.
[1] There is, of course, an exception to this delayed rule adoption. If the EPA promulgates new regulations under the authority granted by the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984, those new regulations take effect in all states simultaneously, even without state-level adoption of similar rules. [See Section 3006 of RCRA]

Tags: hazardous, RCRA, state rules, waste

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