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Special Wastes

Congress enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (Public Law 94-580) on October 21, 1976. RCRA required EPA to “promulgate regulations identifying characteristics of hazardous waste and listing particular hazardous waste” that would be subject to hazardous waste management standards. EPA also was required to develop standards for the owners and operators of hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities.

In response to this mandate, EPA proposed regulations for managing hazardous waste under Subtitle C of RCRA on December 18, 1978 (43 FR 58946). Included in these proposed regulations was a deferral of hazardous waste requirements for six categories of waste—which EPA termed “special wastes”—until further study and assessment could be completed to determine their risk to human health and the environment. The six categories of special wastes included:

These wastes typically are generated in large volumes and, at the time, were believed to possess less risk to human health and the environment than the wastes being identified for regulation as hazardous waste.

Photo of a mining operation

One Type of Special Waste: Mining Waste

On October 12, 1980, Congress enacted the Solid Waste Disposal Act Amendments of 1980 (Public Law 96-482) which amended RCRA in several ways. Pertinent to special wastes was the addition of sections 3001(b)(2)(A) and 3001(b)(3)(A). These new sections—frequently referred to as the Bentsen and Bevill Amendments—exempted “special wastes” from regulation under Subtitle C of RCRA until further study and assessment of risk could be performed. Specifically, the Bentsen Amendment (§3001(b)(2)(A)) exempted drilling fluids, produced waters, and other wastes associated with the exploration, development, and production of crude oil or natural gas or geothermal energy. The Bevill Amendment (§3001(b)(3)(A)(i-iii)) exempted fossil fuel combustion waste; waste from the extraction, beneficiation, and processing of ores and minerals (including phosphate rock and overburden from uranium ore mining); and cement kiln dust.

The Bevill and Bentsen Amendments also required EPA to complete full assessments of each exempted waste and submit a formal report to Congress on its findings. Section 8002 explicitly identified the requirements for each special waste study and established deadlines for submission of the final reports. After completion of each respective “Report to Congress”, EPA was then required to make a final regulatory determination within six months as to whether the special waste in question warranted regulation as a hazardous waste under Subtitle C of RCRA.

At this time, all Reports to Congress are complete and most final regulatory determinations, except Cement Kiln Dust, have been made. The regulatory time line and history for each special waste varies greatly.

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