Time Is Basic Difference in 3 Hazardous Waste Acts

Article excerpt

The handling of hazardous waste is a very complex issue in our society.

While there are a wide variety of state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous waste, the two most visible laws are the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) of 1980.

The basic difference in these acts is one of time. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulates hazardous wastes from "cradle-to-grave" or, in other words, from generation to final disposal of hazardous waste.

Superfund is designed to clean up hazardous substance spills and disposal problems, principally at abandoned hazardous waste sites. Both of these laws were enacted in a flurry of activity during the closing days of Congressional sessions.

They therefore have caused considerable controversy among regulators, the regulated and environmental groups. Subsequent legislative and regulatory amendments have cleared the confusion somewhat, but not entirely.

While most who are regulated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act are conversant with the requirements and liabilities, Superfund often affects parties with no experience with the regulatory agencies and who are, therefore, quite justifiably confused.

For instance, most of the major provisions of Superfund are tied to the definition of "hazardous substances". While there are close to 700 substances listed as hazardous under Superfund, the Evironmental Protection Agency has taken the position that any material may be listed if it contains constituents that are hazardous.

Further, the Evironmental Protection Agency has the authority to respond to the release or the threat of release of a "pollutant or contaminant which may present an imminent and substantial danger to the public health or welfare". The terms pollutant and contaminant have been variously defined to include anything which may cause disease in any organism in the environment.

While this language appears to give the agency great latitude, in fact they have been very cautious in their approach. Although various figures are reported, approximately 40 sites were cleaned during the first five years of Superfund.

The first five-year authorization of $1.6 billion expired in September 1985. It was kept alive with month-to-month emergency appropriations until the fall of 1986.

The new reauthorization act appropriates up to $9 billion for the next five years with a mandate of final closure of 175 to 600 sites. This would seem to indicate an escalation of regulatory activity.

As the title of the act suggests, liability assessment is part of the basic nature of Superfund. …