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What laws govern solid waste disposal?
The Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) was the first major federal law directed at waste disposal. It recognizes the potentially negative health and environmental consequences associated with certain waste disposal practices. The SWDA provides waste management standards for municipal and industrial waste, promotes waste management technology, and charges municipalities with responsibility for disposal of solid waste. The SWDA is subject to numerous amendments expanding its coverage as follows:
• The Resource Recover Act of 1970 (RRA) – This act added to the SWDA by introducing waste reduction provisions (such as recycling) and laid out criteria for disposal of hazardous waste.
• The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) – This act added again to the SDWA by expanding its coverage and focus to include the development of new waste disposal technology. Notably, the RCRA banned the use of open-land dumping and placed additional liabilities on creators of waste (even after entry into a waste disposal system). It made creators of hazardous waste ultimately responsible for waste generated at any point in its existence. This is known as “cradle-to-grave” responsibility. It established a system for tracking hazardous waste throughout its life.
• The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments – These amendments to the SDWA were passed in 1984 to place more stringent requirements on the management and disposal of hazardous waste and established underground waste storage standards.
• The Federal Facilities Compliance Act of 1992 – This act amended the SDWA yet again to make federal facilities accountable and subject to the provisions of the SWDA.
The EPA is primarily charged with enforcing the provisions of the SWDA through administrative, civil, and criminal actions. The regulations developed by the EPA to administer the provisions of the SWDA are a primary compliance concern for businesses.
• Note: The SWDA prohibits retaliation against employees for providing information about environmental infractions to the EPA. Retaliation may be any form of negative action against an employee motivated by the employee’s disclosure of information.
• Discussion: Why do you think waste disposal is a concern of the Federal Government? Do you think the breadth of coverage of waste disposal laws is adequate?
• Practice Question: ABC Corp is accused by an employee of failing to comply with federal standards in the disposal of solid waste. What are the methods for the employee to enforce the laws against ABC? What are the risks to the employee of doing so?