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Scott Slesinger’s Blog

Paperwork Reductions or Life-Saving Standards?

Scott Slesinger

Posted April 15, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, The Media and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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EPA priorities: Does this make sense to anyone?

Appropriators and the Administration need to decide what is more important -- health and the environment or paperwork reduction.

The hazardous waste industry has been working over a decade to replace its paper trail with an electronic alternative. Under the law, EPA must trace hazardous waste from cradle to grave -- on paper.  The industry had pushed for years to allow electronic tracking.  States and others supported this change because the paper manifest can easily have 5 or more copies and regulators just wouldn't waste their time during regular inspections to review the thousands of paper documents. Originally industry offered to pay a fee to move towards electronic tracking if the funds for such a tax would be designated for use setting up and managing the system.  Appropriators instead would only allow the fee if the money would still need to be subject to the whims of appropriators.  The industry balked at that idea so the change in the law went through allowing electronic manifests but funding was left subject to annual appropriations.  In the past year, EPA received $3.67 million for the manifest and this year the administration asked for another $2.15 million out of the Office of Solid Waste and over $8 million from other agency resources.

According to EPA's budget justification, as Suzanne Yohannan reported in Inside EPA, the tiny budget of EPA's hazardous waste program will be devastated by the earmark for the manifest.  Yohannan notes that the 2.15[1] million dollars out of the Office of Solid Waste’s base budget for manifest according to EPA's Budget Justification for FY15, will "delay rulemakings and sacrifice the waste program’s ability to protect communities and be responsive to states as they try to carry out the law's enforcement of waste standards."  According to EPA's justification, the diversion for e-Manifest "will reduce the Waste Management program's flexibility and limit the agency's ability to balance both core program activities and the e-Manifest project. This change will necessitate some program transitions, allowing only critical waste management program infrastructure support to continue and requiring the program to manage through a hiatus to several rulemakings and other projects which require expert and complex analysis in FY 2015." (Budget justification at 443)

During these economic times, when EPA is laying off hundreds or thousands, aren't there better uses of the money? 

The delay in the rulemakings "will significantly [impact] the program's ability to protect communities and be responsive to all stakeholders."(Budget justification at 444). According to the budget, the delays caused by the priority for going electronic will slow down needed protections for coal ash, pharmaceutical waste, border inspections and the seemingly never-ending promulgation of the air toxic pollution control standards for incinerators and other burning of hazardous waste.

It seems that of the $60 million for the Office of Solid Waste, the budget justification claimed impact of the $2.1 million set-aside for e-manifests out of the Office of Solid Waste is exaggerated. But, as a former lobbyist for the hazardous waste industry who pushed for the authority for e-manifests, it is clear to me the government should not delay needed life-saving standards to pay for moving an industry into the 21st century.  Instead of the funds coming out of the Office of Solid Waste, this priority needs to be much lower and the $10 million the President recommends for the e-manifest should be allocated for the life-saving standard setting priorities. If Congress wants to be responsive to the paperwork burden of the hazardous waste industry, it should find money from sources that are not going to delay overdue regulatory standards that are leaving communities, such as those along the Dan River in North Carolina, at risk.

Really, how can anyone choose paperwork reduction over setting standards for toxic pollution?

 


[1] The article said $2.5 million. This is probably a misprint, the EPA budget justification says  $2.15 million.

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