Worthy of Consideration

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed changes to its regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regarding the export and import for recovery operations of hazardous wastes from and into the United States.

EPA’s regulations regarding the transboundary shipment of hazardous waste are found at 40 C.F.R. Part 262, Subparts E, F and H. Part 262, Subpart E applies to exporters of hazardous waste and is designed to ensure that hazardous waste is not exported to a foreign country without that country’s prior consent. Part 262, Subpart F contains the regulations that apply to importers of hazardous waste. Part 262, Subpart H contains the regulations implementing the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Decision Concerning the Control of Transfrontier Movements of Wastes Destined for Recovery Operations. The proposal would modify the requirements under Subpart H and expand the jurisdictional scope of the Subpart to include shipments now subject to Subparts E and F.

Some might wonder what is prompting the need for regulatory amendments. In 2013, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) issued a report on hazardous waste exports from the United States. The report identified several concerns with the nature and quantity of hazardous waste being exported to Mexico for recovery. In addition, in July of this year, EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “EPA Does Not Effectively Control or Monitor Imports of Hazardous Waste,” in which OIG identified concerns with waste export practices. The proposed revisions are intended, in part, to respond to both reports.

Proposed Rule

The proposed revisions of the existing regulations will, according to EPA, consolidate the requirements, streamline the regulations and enhance the documentation of the movement and disposition of hazardous wastes and other materials. The amendments will also enable regulated entities and the government to benefit from the efficiencies afforded by electronic submission of data and will consolidate the notification process with foreign governments under a unified regulation, consistent with the requirements of OECD controlling transboundary movements of hazardous waste.

EPA’s determination that some revisions to the import and export regulations are needed is bolstered by the 2013 CEC report referenced above. The CEC report found that U.S. net exports of spent lead acid batteries (SLAB) to Mexico for recycling had increased by a whopping 449 to 525 percent, and that there were significant discrepancies between summary data on export shipments reported to EPA annually and individual export shipment data collected under U.S. Census Bureau (Census) authority. Based on its findings, the CEC report recommended that the U.S. require the use of manifests for each international shipment of SLABs, require exporters to obtain a certificate of recovery from foreign recycling facilities, explore establishing an electronic export annual report, and better share import and export data between environmental and border agencies.

EPA’s proposed rule discusses the CEC report and EPA’s related analysis of its findings. EPA expressed particular interest in comment from those persons importing or exporting hazardous wastes managed under the special management standards in 40 C.F.R. Part 266 (e.g., SLABs) and 40 C.F.R. Part 273 (e.g., universal waste batteries, universal waste mercury lamps).

Key Proposed Changes

A key change under the proposal is the reorganization of Subpart H requirements, the requirements that apply to the transboundary shipment of wastes destined for recovery between the U.S. and OECD member countries, excluding Canada and Mexico. The rule would consolidate the hazardous waste import and export standards into one set of requirements under 40 C.F.R. Part 262, Subpart H. The rule proposes mandatory electronic reporting to EPA. Among the changes to be aware of include the proposed requirement to submit electronically to EPA certain documents relating to the export of hazardous wastes or cathode ray tubes (CRTs) exported for recycling, annual reports for hazardous waste shipments or CRTs destined for recycling, and exception reports for exports of hazardous waste, among related documents set forth in the proposal.

The rule would link the consent to export with the exporter declaration submitted to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that should provide for more efficient compliance monitoring. In addition, EPA seeks to ensure clearer matching of waste stream level consent numbers with waste streams listed on RCRA hazardous waste manifests for import and export shipments. EPA is also proposing to require the filing of export consent information as part of the exporter’s electronic declaration to CBP. The proposal also would require traders who arrange for the export of hazardous waste, but do not themselves generate, transport, treat, store or dispose of such waste, to obtain an EPA ID number from the EPA regional or authorized state agency where the entity is located.

One of the more significant changes is EPA’s proposal that shipments of SLAB exported for reclamation be accompanied by international shipping documents, akin to hazardous wastes manifests. Currently there is no requirement that SLAB exports be covered by such documents. EPA’s determination that some revisions to the SLAB import/export regulations are needed is featured in the 2013 CEC report and its recommendations. Based on its findings, the CEC report recommended that the U.S. require the use of manifests for each international shipment of SLABs, require exporters to obtain a certificate of recovery from foreign recycling facilities, explore establishing an electronic export annual report and better share import and export data between environmental and border agencies. EPA proposes to incorporate most of these recommendations into the revised regulations.

Discussion

The changes contemplated under the proposal are important. In effect, the requirements under Subparts E and F would be swept into Subpart H, and shipments subject to Subparts E and F would be regulated under Subpart H, including the proposed regulations in the proposal and existing Subpart H regulations not subject to any proposed change. Perhaps the most significant proposal relates to SLABs destined for offshore recovery. If implemented, the proposed SLAB notification requirements would address the concerns noted in the CEC report referenced above and provide for more robust tracking of SLAB reclamation operations, particularly those in Mexico.

On the whole, the proposal is significant and likely to be implemented and thus worthy of careful consideration by Manufacturing Today readers. While a final rule is not expected for some time, understanding the changes now will better prepare regulated entities for the changes in store. 

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