Is EPA Considering Allowing PCB Cleanups to Proceed Under RCRA, Rather Than TSCA? I’ll Believe It When I See It (And I Hope I See It)

One headline in today’s Daily Environment Report stated that “EPA Considers PCB Regulatory Reform Amid State Regulator Criticism of Program.” Even my advanced sarcasm skills failed me on reading this. I’ll therefore settle for “about bloody time.”

The original fault certainly lies with Congress, not EPA. The notion that Congress needed a separate statutory regime to deal with one specific compound (ok, family of compounds) was always foolish. TSCA and RCRA were enacted with 10 days of each other in 1976. No one has ever justified the PCB provisions of TSCA, given the contemporaneous passage of RCRA. The only true explanation is the all-to-typical response by Congress to individual horror stories – Let’s Pass A Law – whether or not those stories actually justified any particular concern.

Twenty-six years later, matters don’t look any better. PCBs have been banned for a long time and only legacy contamination remains. Isn’t that RCRA’s (or, in some cases, CERCLA’s) job?

The Daily Environment story quotes David Hockey of EPA as stating that “EPA has not found any ‘absolute barriers’ in [TSCA] that would prevent it from delegating cleanup of PCB contamination to the states.” The story also quotes many state officials complaining that EPA TSCA regulation actually slows cleanups and brownfields redevelopment.

While I’m pleased to know that EPA’s looking into the issue, I’m not holding my breath. There’s one major obstacle to regulating PCBs under RCRA, rather than TSCA – an entire regulatory bureaucracy dedicated to dealing with PCBs. If anyone thinks that dismantling that bureaucracy will be easy, they don’t know what bureaucracy means.

Notwithstanding that obstacle, I sure hope EPA sticks with it. I also hope that the states and regulated community keep EPA’s feet to the fire. Finally (I can dream, can’t I), I hope that environmental organizations get on the bandwagon as well. Don’t they realize that the massive waste of resources that is the PCB program drains resources from other needs at EPA?

Have I made my views sufficiently clear?

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