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U.S. Senate takes action on environmental legislation.

U.S. Senate Takes Action On Environmental Legislation

RCRA Reauthorization Bill introduced, with extensive landfill provisions proposed; Medical Waste Tracking Act continuation adopted The U.S. Senate has recently taken action on environmental issues of interest to the nonwovens industry. Since April of this year, legislation to reauthorize the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was introduced in the Senate and a bill reauthorizing the Solid Waste Tracking Act of 1988 was passed by unanimous consent.

Both of these actions are steps toward federal legislation that had been discussed over the past two to three years, but otherwise had not been seriously considered.

RCRA Reauthorization

In late April, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced a RCRA reauthorization bill that contains provisions that, if enacted into law, could significantly impact the way solid waste and medical waste is disposed of in the U.S. Senator Baucus is Chairman of the Environmental Protection Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and his subcommittee has already held hearings on the bill.

Among other things, the Baucus Bill (S 976) calls for: 1) new federal "management criteria" for municipal landfills and combustion facilities; 2) new federal permits for disposal of solid waste; 3) tight restrictions on disposal of medical waste; and 4) state authority to restrict municipal solid waste imported from other states.

The bill would require that medical wastes be stored and transported in labeled, leakproof containers and that medical waste incinerators kill ALL pathogens contained in the waste. Medical waste incinerators would also be required to minimize emissions of toxic pollutants.

Landfill provisions contained in the measure are extensive. The bill would require, for instance, that controls be instituted to ensure that hazardous wastes are not placed in municipal landfills, that landfills are covered each day and that landfills are not placed in flood plains, wetlands or seismic impact areas.

The bill would also require that composite liners be used with any new or expanded landfills to prevent leaching. Liners are to consist of an upper component that has a minimum 30-mil flexible membrane liner or a 60-mil high density polyethylene liner with a lower component consisting of at least two feet of compacted soil. Alternative liner designs would be allowed if they were capable of preventing the migration of wastes or leachate out of the landfill to the uppermost aquafier during the landfill's entire life span--including the post-closure period.

From the nonwovens perspective, one potential benefit of the bill is that it contains a provision requiring that fertilizers paid for with U.S. Department of Agriculture funds include purchases of fertilizing agents made with composted solid waste or secondary materials. This provision is designed to increase the demand for composted material and could help develop an alternative disposal system for diapers and other disposable items.

By introducing the bill, Senator Baucus has taken the first step in what will likely be a long journey towards eventual passage of legislation to reauthorize RCRA. In fact, it is not certain that Congress will be able to pass a measure before the current legislative session ends in 1992. However, by introducing the measure and using his Subcommittee to hold hearings on it so quickly, Senator Baucus has increased awareness of the issue and has set the stage for a national debate on the proper role of the federal government in solid waste issues.

Medical Waste Tracking Act Extension

In a related issue, on May 16, the U.S. Senate agreed by unanimous consent to extend the Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988 for another two years. The MWTA, as originally passed, authorized a two-year "demonstration" program in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established a system to monitor the disposal of medical waste in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.

The program was scheduled to end by June 2, 1991 and was intended to serve as a temporary measure until RCRA reauthorization was completed (back in 1988 Congress expected to have RCRA action finished by the end of 1990 at the latest). Now, with final action on RCRA not likely until late 1992 at least, the Senate has determined that the MWTA program should be extended for another two years.

In outlining the benefits of the MWTA during a speech on the Senate Floor, Senator Wendell Ford (D-KY) stated that the program "...expand(ed) the state of knowledge about medical waste generation, management and disposal, encouraging innovation in treatment technologies, reevaluation of home health care waste management, reduction of the severity of beach washups and the contribution to program development in noncovered states."

Senator Ford did not mention that the program has also resulted in an expansion of the amount of hospital waste that must be labeled "infectious" to the point that more than 70% of the medical waste in the covered states must carry the label, increasing the average facility's cost for medical waste treatment and disposal from $9000/month in 1988 to more than $50,000/month in 1990 in the participating states.

The Senate action does not automatically mean that the program will be extended, however. For the program to actually be extended, the House of Representatives will also have to act on the issue and President Bush will eventually have to sign it into law. Legislation extending the program has already been introduced in the House (HR 1816) but, at press time, no action had been taken on the measure.

INDA's Response

At press time, INDA's Government Relations Advisory Board (GRAB) and its Disposability Committee were scheduled to meet with representatives from Senator Baucus' office and discuss provisions of the Senator's RCRA bill. GRAB and the Government Subcommittee of INDA's Disposability Committee have identified RCRA Reauthorization as a major issue and INDA will continue its work on the issue in the months ahead.

Also at press time, INDA had not developed a formal position on the proposed extension to the Medical Waste Tracking Act. INDA generally does not support legislation that increases costs to consumers of nonwoven products. In this case, extension of the program may be inevitable due to the program's popularity in Congress and the current political "climate" towards environmental issues. Nevertheless, INDA will poll its members and make those opinions known should the bill come under consideration in the House of Representatives.
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Title Annotation:Resource Conservation and Recovery Act introduced to the Senate while a bill reauthorizing the Solid Waste Tracking Act of 1988 was passed
Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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