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Texas Pre-RCRA Permit Pollution Prevention Meetings

A sustainable manufacturing sector prefers the mining of reused materials over the use of virgin feedstock in industrial processes because it prevents pollution, conserves resources, and enhances biodiversity through waste reduction, energy savings, land preservation, and general resource efficiency. In many cases throughout the country, early RCRA regulations with unintended consequences or industry confusion about ambiguities in those regulations have become a significant barrier to our economy's movement toward this industrial ecology.  Since 1990, the Texas Pollution Prevention Program technical assistance engineers have been meeting with industry environmental engineers in pre-RCRA permit sessions from Texas and just south of the Mexico/U.S. border to help remove or work through these perceived barriers.

The purpose of these sessions is to help remove or work through regulatory barriers to pollution prevention and environmental innovation. During these sessions the environmental problem is examined, waste management reduction options are identified, options are ranked according to the P2 hierarchy, and P2 technical assistance is provided. In the cases where the best pollution-prevention based environmental solution is hindered by a regulation or a misunderstanding of a regulation, the P2 engineer acts as a counselor and advocate for the facility, helping them to navigate within the regulatory and bureaucratic maze to reach the optimum environmental outcome. Often these projects are economically beneficial to the facility, and all parties benefit. The Texas program is still going strong after thirteen years with impressive environmental and economic results. This work by the Texas Pollution Prevention Program emerged from within the P2 program and grew rapidly, so that it is now funded through a combination of federal and state money, including a Pollution Prevention Incentives for States grants, an EPA border grant, and RCRA fees.

The negotiations require that both agency and industry staff assume that all parties share and are motivated by the same goal of the highest environmental good. There is an understanding that engineers on both sides of the relationship chose their career because of a concern about the environment, and both have complex organizational structures and tensions within which they must maneuver. When environmental engineering challenges are scientifically and rationally analyzed, the best environmental solutions are designed. Productive dialogue exists within the context that if a regulated facility fails to follow through on its commitment, the relevant regulations will be enforced. Within the agency, a similar level of trust, mutual respect, and assertive curiosity must characterize the relationship between the P2 engineers and the enforcement staff. A close and proactive relationship must exist for progress to occur. Early and often in this process, regulatory staff must be consulted for their expert opinions. Intimate familiarity and a vast knowledge base grounded in experience with the regulations are required for the assistance provider to be effective in this program. Engineers must understand the processes in question and be able to draw from similar facilities' and similar sectors' models. This makes informal and professional networks and resources important.

The following anecdote is an excellent illustration of how this program works and how its results benefit the environment while being economically productive. BASF Freeport (Texas) identified a commercial market in the carbon black industry for one of the site's process streams: EP 530, typically shipped off site for fuels blending or incineration. Though it contains chromium at levels sufficient to exhibit the characteristic of a hazardous waste, it does not contain levels that exceed those found in material normally used as ingredients in that manufacturing process. In the first year, the project is expected to keep 10 million pounds of material from disposal, and to have a net positive effect on the facility's bottom-line of approximately $750,000, as well as savings on transportation and incineration costs, and earnings from selling the material. The potential for future waste reduction could be as high as 28 million pounds per year.

EP 530 meets all product specifications for carbon black feedstock (CBFS) and has additional environmental benefits including:

Positive Results

The positive results of this program are substantial. This program simultaneously combines facility-based technical assistance with an internal agency pollution prevention integration and regulatory reform approach. In the years since its inception, this P2 technical assistance activity, originating from within the hazardous waste permitting process, has matured and evolved. It is now multimedia in scope and impact, and the benefits are quantified. According to surveys completed by the facilities, since 1993, more than 300 facilities in Texas have received assistance from the P2 program with the following estimated impact:

Environmental and economic benefits of this program quantified are likely to be conservative as they do not include the ripple effect of the informal transfer of these innovations to other facilities as peers learn from each other. In addition, businesses tend to deflate their reported reductions in order to protect confidential business information that might inadvertently reveal specific chemical volumes used in process or production levels to competitors.

Key Elements, Suggestions, and Challenges

The EPA and state provided the keys to the success of this program. At the same time, conservative interpretations and strict enforcement of RCRA are the most frequent barriers to progress. The best way to overcome these obstacles was to acknowledge and draw upon the regulators' expertise and to involve them as early on in the process as possible. Also, a barrier to some of this work has been the automatic triggering of required legal courses of action once interaction with facilities is initiated in writing. The solution has been to make sure that early exploratory interactions are completely verbal.

More Information

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Pollution Prevention Planning and Technical Assistance Exit EPA Disclaimer

A tool to assist facilities in preparing a pollution prevention plan. Exit EPA Disclaimer

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