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RCRA Hazardous Waste Delisting: The First 20 Years



This report documents an evaluation of the outcomes and impacts of the hazardous waste delisting program, conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The report describes the rationale for conducting a program evaluation, the results and outcomes of the delisting program, and other findings and issues raised in this evaluation.

This evaluation was undertaken as part of EPA's implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993. That statute requires federal agencies to include program evaluations in the strategic planning process.

The Hazardous Waste Delisting Program

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which guides EPA's hazardous waste management programs, provides for a process to remove, or "delist", a waste generated at a facility from the list of hazardous wastes. This delisting process is initiated by the generator (person who creates the waste), who prepares a petition for delisting the waste. The petition provides information about the waste, including its chemical composition, to demonstrate the rationale for delisting the waste. The petition is reviewed by the appropriate regulatory agency (either EPA or a state hazardous waste regulatory agency which has been authorized to grant delisting petitions) to determine whether the waste should continue to be listed as hazardous. (See Section 1.3 for more detail on the full process of the regulatory determination.)

EPA's Office of Solid Waste (renamed Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery on January 18, 2009) decided that the delisting program would be a good candidate for evaluation. After consultation with staff and management in both headquarters and the regional offices, OSW (now ORCR) decided that this evaluation would be most useful if focused on the outcomes and impacts of the federal delisting program, rather than focus on the mechanisms for conducting delistings. Therefore, this study examines how the program has functioned, and what has been gained by the operation of the delisting program. This "big picture" focus also results in findings that provide useful information for assessing the future direction and management of the delisting program. This report looks at three different categories of outcomes of the delisting program:

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Methodology Of The Evaluation

EPA assembled a database listing all the delisting applications granted by the EPA (not including those granted by state governments) between calendar years 1980 and 1999. Some of the information had been kept by the delisting program, either in paper files or in the Delisting Petition Data Management System. This database had been discontinued in 1995. Other data was taken from the Federal Register notices announcing each proposed and final delisting granted.

Data elements in the current database include:

Using the database, we calculated total volumes of waste delisted. We also estimated the cost of administering the program, and cost savings that have been realized through delisting.

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Descriptive Statistics

Over the 20-year period from 1980 through 1999, delistings were granted to a total of 136 separate waste streams, generated at 115 separate facilities. By far the most common waste code for which delistings were granted is F006, an electroplating waste, found in 51 delisted waste streams. Over this period, a cumulative total of 45 million tons of waste has been excluded from subtitle C requirements; over 80% of that volume is wastewater.

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Economic Impacts Of The Delisting Program

The reduced social costs associated with the delisting program are derived through calculating the administrative costs of operating the delisting program, and the offset of lowered costs of waste treatment and disposal.

The total administrative costs associated with this twenty year period of the delisting program ranges from $107 million to $226 million. The costs to petitioners is between 70-85% of that total. The costs of running the program, while large, are far outweighed by the cost savings achieved, however. From the inception of the delisting program through the year 2000, cumulative net cost savings attributable to the delisting program range between $1.2 billion and $2.4 billion. Even if no further delistings are ever granted, the delisting program will save over $105 million each year, from wastes that have already been removed from Subtitle C regulation.

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Environmental Impacts Of The Delisting Program

An complete investigation into previously delisted wastes was outside the scope of this program evaluation. However, given a strict risk assessment process (which has been made progressively more accurate), the Agency has little reason to believe that these streams are causing environmental problems. The Agency has also taken steps to limit the possibilities for harmful environmental releases in the future, and to facilitate review of the consequences of disposal of delisted waste streams.

Another issue of concern is the impact of delisting on recycling. It seems logical that delisting might inhibit recycling in some cases, and promote it in others. We found anecdotal evidence of both impacts, but were unable to identify clear trends in either direction.

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The findings of this evaluation distinctly demonstrate the significant economic impacts of the delisting program: reductions in deadweight loss to the economy totaling over $100 million each year. Continued efficiencies and refinements in the delisting petition review process should only improve those results. The environmental impacts are not as clear, although EPA does not have reason to suspect that delisted wastes are causing environmental problems.

As one of the first program evaluations undertaken by the RCRA program in response to GPRA, there is also clear value to this evaluation study itself. Not only has it helped the RCRA program understand the process of program evaluation, it has also helped us understand the nature of the value of a program. The analysis demonstrates that benefits can take many forms, not just risk reduction. A program like delisting demonstrates its value in terms of reduction in economic losses, and concomitant improvement in human welfare.

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