Hazardous Waste Disposal: The
Double-Edged Sword of the
RCRA Land-Ban Hammers
ALEXIS A. HALLEY
U.S. public policy regarding the management of hazardous waste addresses a problem of enormous magnitude: how to dispose safely of the huge volumes of municipal and industrial solid waste (hazardous and nonhazardous) generated nationwide. Much of the waste makes its way into the environment, where it can pose a serious threat to ecological systems and public health.
There was a time when the amount of waste produced was small and its impact on the environment relatively minor—when it was supposed that a river could purify itself every ten miles. But by the end of World War II, U.S. industry was generating roughly 500,000 metric tons of hazardous waste per year. In 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated the amount to be 8.9 million metric tons; in 1985, 264 million metric tons. Since 1950 over 6 billion tons of hazardous waste have been disposed of on land. Unfortunately, the phenomenal growth in the production of waste has not always been mirrored by growth in the field of waste management.
In the past decade the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) has revolutionized the management of hazardous waste. Its impact on the nation and on protecting human health and the environment has been undeniable. This case is the story of the design and implementation of the "land-ban hammers" or land-ban restrictions in the 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) to RCRA. Congressional "hammers" are a special case of the more general use of legislative deadlines as mechanisms to force compliance with statutory mandates. In basic form, the hammers examined in this case impose a legislated regulation (that is, Congress's judgment) if the agency fails to adopt alternative regulations by the deadline. 1 The land-ban hammers were the centerpiece of the HSWA legisla