EPA Chief Announces New Incinerator Rules
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner announced what she said are tough new rules Tuesday to ″radically change″ regulation of toxic waste from incinerators.
″We have got to reduce the amount of hazardous waste we are producing in this country,″ Browner told a news conference. ″We have to have that as our top priority.″
″We are using every tool we have available to us to fairly radically change the process by which we have dealt with hazardous waste incineration in this country,″ she said, adding the changes would assure ″the safest possible hazardous waste disposal.″
For an 18-month period the agency will review temporary permits for 171 industrial furnaces and will withhold new permits, she said.
Officials said that will freeze hazardous waste incineration at the current 5 million tons per year.
For facilities with full permits, the new stricter standards - including full risk assessments and tougher dioxin testing - will be applied as the permits come up for renewal.
″It is our goal to make sure that any facility that is burning hazardous waste is doing so in a way that is safe for the public, public health and our natural resources,″ Browner said.
Browner said the new restrictions also will shut down or prevent some 24 incinerators from starting up.
One of EPA’s own investigators immediately denounced the new policy as not going far enough to crack down on longstanding violations of air quality standards.
″It’s a nothing-burger and it’s a ruse and it’s a smokescreen,″ said Hugh Kaufman, a hazardous waste specialist and EPA whistleblower.
He said the agency is failing to enforce air quality violations by industrial furnaces, thus endangering the public health, and that Browner’s new policy does not address those previous violations.
But Browner’s senior policy adviser, Mike Vandenbergh, said EPA plans ″agressive action″ against the very facilities Kaufman cited, and that Browner ″is committed to taking strong enforcement action where its appropriate.″
″The ones out of compliance will be shut down when we find a threat to human health and environment,″ he said. The ones that do not present ″an immediate risk″ will be prioritized for action over the 18-month period, he said.
But operation of the incinerator that has been a source of intense controversy for the Clinton administration, Waste Technologies Industries in East Liverpool, Ohio, will not be impeded by the new policy. The new $160 million facility already has a permit good until 1995.
However, WTI, currently approved for limited operations, is still undergoing risk assessment and dioxin analysis and evaluation of its test burn before it can receive a full operations go-ahead.
Greenpeace, an environmental group leading the fight against WTI, attacked the administration’s action.
EPA has granted ″a blatant and unjustifiable exemption″ for WTI, said Greenpeace spokesman Joe Thornton.
The group said the Ohio facility is a threat to a nearby elementary school and could cause dioxin contamination of food and drinking water from the Ohio river. Dioxin has been linked to cancer.
The Clinton administration has said it can not legally revoke WTI’s permit approved by the Bush administration. Browner accused the previous administration of failing to ″adequately inform and involve the public.″
EPA’s new policy applies to the nation’s 184 incinerators, but the chief target is the additional 171 industrial furnaces, including 34 cement kilns, Browner said. Many industrial furnaces burn chemical waste as fuel and are not regulated as strictly as the incinerators that burn hazardous waste commercially.
Those furnaces, at facilities such as petroleum refineries, agricultural chemical manufacturers and organic and inorganic chemical plants, burn wastes including spent solvents and organic chemicals and products.
The agency will require incinerators and furnaces to undergo full risk assessments, including evaluating indirect risk on health and safety such as contamination of crops and food.
Incinerators also will have to meet stricter standards for emissions of dioxin and contamination from metals, including lead, cadmium and mercury.