What is a Hazardous Waste Permit?

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What is a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Permit?

When RCRA was enacted, Congress recognized the risks posed by the treatment, storage, and disposal of large volumes of hazardous waste at treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDFs). Considering these risks, Congress felt that TSDF management activities needed to be closely regulated to prevent spills, accidents and mechanical failures.

As a result, TSDFs are required to obtain permission, in the form of an RCRA permit, which establishes the administrative and technical conditions under which waste at the facility must be managed.

A RCRA permit is a legally binding document that establishes the waste management activities a facility can conduct and the conditions under which it can conduct them. The permit includes applicable EPA regulations from 40 CFR parts 260 through 270, and also:

  • Outlines facility design and operation
  • Lays out safety standards
  • Describes facility performance activities (e.g., monitoring and reporting)

Permits typically require facilities to develop emergency plans, find insurance and financial backing and train employees to handle hazards. Permits can also include specific facility requirements, such as groundwater monitoring. The permitting agency (i.e., either the state or EPA) has the authority to issue or deny permits and is responsible for monitoring the facility. They ensure that the facility is in compliance with the conditions stated in the permit. According to RCRA and its regulations, a TSDF cannot operate without a permit, with a few exceptions. 

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Who Needs a RCRA Permit?

All facilities that currently treat, store or dispose of hazardous wastes or plan to do so must obtain an RCRA permit.

  • TSDFs must receive a permit before they begin construction to demonstrate they can manage hazardous waste safely and responsibly. The permitting agency (i.e., the state or EPA) reviews the permit application and decides whether to grant or deny the facility an RCRA permit. Permits are typically granted for a period up to 10 years.
  • Permitted operating TSDFs must submit a new permit application six months before their existing permit expires.
  • TSDFs operating under interim status must also apply for a permit. Congress granted "interim status" to facilities that already existed when RCRA was enacted. Interim status allows existing facilities to continue operating while their permit applications are being reviewed.

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Who Does not Need a RCRA Permit?

Some facilities are not required to obtain an RCRA permit when handling hazardous waste provided they meet certain conditions specified in the regulations. These exceptions include:

  • Businesses that generate hazardous waste and then store for short periods of time before transporting the waste off site.
  • Transporters of hazardous waste.
  • Entities performing containment activities during an immediate response to an emergency.

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What is State Authorization and how Does it Affect RCRA Permitting?

When RCRA was written, it was Congress’ intent for the states to assume primary responsibility for implementing the hazardous waste regulations, with oversight from the federal government. In order for a state to assume the regulatory lead as the implementing agency, it must be authorized by EPA to do so. RCRA requires authorization to ensure state programs are at least equivalent to and consistent with the federal rules. EPA establishes minimum federal standards to prevent less stringent state regulatory programs. A state that has received final authorization, known as an authorized state, implements and enforces its hazardous waste regulations. Authorized state regulations act “in lieu of” federal regulations.

The authorization status of states affects which provisions can be addressed in an RCRA hazardous waste permit. States are obligated to address all relevant permit provisions for which they have received final authorization from EPA. In addition, EPA is obligated to address all relevant provisions promulgated under the authority of the 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (which provide for implementation by the EPA prior to a state’s authorization) when a state is not authorized for the provisions. This situation may call for a joint permit from the state and EPA. 

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