United States
       Environmental Protection
       February 1977

       The Resource
       Conservation and
       Recovery Act of 1976
.- -  Environmental Protection ^ ;:^'
-, -,n 5, Library (5PL-16)
,-;•;? Dearborn Street, Room 1670

                       EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS

     To what extent is Federal direction or regulation needed in
solid waste management?
     On the 21st of October, when the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) was signed into law, the answer to this
question was provided to all of us.
     The new law is one that political scientists cite as evidence
that the system works.  It is among those laws which reflect the
will of active public opinion on a given topic at a given historical
moment.  Built on the foundation of the Solid Waste Disposal Act of
1965 and the Resource Recovery Act of 1970, the RCRA is the evolu-
tionary product of several years of deliberations and hearings held
by a number of committees of both houses of the Congress.  It
addresses problems and opportunities which are intrinsically a part
of the solid waste management issue.  It reflects a full awareness
of those areas which involve a high level of technical understanding
and knowledge as well as those areas of technical uncertainty, and
relates both to the social and economic ramifications of improved
     The Act reflects the fact that all levels of government, industry
and a variety of environmental and other public interest groups had
full opportunity to be heard.  Both houses of Congress passed it by
overwhelming votes.

     RCRA integrates the primary thrusts of the two earlier solid
waste acts.  It acknowledges the interrelati.on of the resource-use
and public health issues associated with land disposal.  It mandates
a series of actions, requiring effort on the part of all levels of
government, industry, and the public—over time--to ensure that pro-
gress in protecting health and the environment will not be inhibited

by a failure to move forward in the areas of resource conservation and
     A long hard look at the status of solid waste management reveals
that this issue touches the very frontiers of our society's movement
toward environmental responsibility; how solid waste influences are
dealt with and are, in turn, influenced by far-reaching social and
economic issues.  These range from the attitudes of the individual
citizen and consumer, through how products are extracted, manufactured
and marketed, to such complex issues as depletion allowances and
international trade policies.  It is no wonder that it took a while
to achieve this legislation and that the Act does not provide immediate,
ready-made solutions to all the varied problems and perplexities that
have been debated for so many years.  Instead, the Act call? for new
patterns of interaction among all levels of government, the assumption
of ley responsibilities by industry on several fronts, and for meaningful
public understanding and participation in all the major activities
mandated by the Act.
     If the T^A is examined in light of the recently passed
Toxic Substances Act and the Safe PrinMng I'.'ater Act,  it becomes
apparent  that  the Congress  reflected a  new dimension  in public
understanding  of what  is reauirec" to improve the environment.   This
new understanding goes far  beyond the relatively simplistic attitudes
so popular a decac'e apo, when  many seered  to thin!  that placing
stoppers  or air pollution stacVs and water-polluting  outfall  pipes
would save us  from burgeoning  environmental problers we had neg-
lected during  two centuries of technological  and economic achievement.
     The RCRA  signifies that our country is nov  ready  tc face the
fact that the  land is  a natural medium which needs  to  be protected
just as air and water do,  and  that resource conservation and recovery
are a key element in the process of achieving environmental quality.

     The sink of last resort is going to disappear as an inexpensive
option for hiding mistakes, and in its place environnentally sound
procedures for dealing with wastes will emerge.   All the provisions
of the Act are supportive of this goal.  The most urgent, though
not the only, necessity is to move rapidly toward controlling the
most obviously undesirable portions of the waste stream.  Hence, the
special emphasis on all aspects of hazardous wastes management.
     Subtitle C of the new law brings management of hazardous wastes
under Federal-State regulator)' control.  Hazardous waste is defined
in the Act as any waste that "because of its quantity,  concentration,
or physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics" may seriously
threaten public health or the environment.  FPA is required to
identify these wastes, set standards for their management, from their
inception to their disposal, and issue guidelines for State programs
over the next year and a half.  The standards go into effect 6 months
after their promulgation.  States are to establish hazardous waste
control programs that will meet Federal requiiements and issue permits
for treatment, storage, and disposal of such wastes.  In those States
that choose not to do so, Federal regulations will apply.  Civil and
criminal penalties are established for noncompliance.  To assist
States in developing and implementing a hazardous waste program
$25 million in grants is authorized to be appropriated  for each of
fiscal years 1978 and 1979.  (Under the Congressional process, actual
sums are appropriated later for implementation of the hazardous waste
or other provisions of the Act that require funding.]
     The new law will increase financial and technical  assistance to
State, regional, and local agencies for the development of compre-
hensive programs of environmentally sound disposal, resource recovery,
and resource conservation.  "Resource conservation" is  defined in the
Act as "reduction of the amounts of solid waste that are generated,

reduction of Overall resource cntaiajftlcp, and ucxiintioa of
recovered resources."  EPA will issue guidelines for State MlM
waste plans.  To facilitate regional pinning, BR* guidelines will
also be issued for identifying regional areas with COSMO solid
waste problems.  The anocmt of Federal funds authorized for grants
to States for developing and implementing State and regional plans
is $30 million for fiscal 1978 and $40 Billion for fiscal 1979.
In addition, $15 million is authorized to each of those years for
grants to regional and local agencies as well as States to inclement
specific programs that fall within approved State plans.
     For a State to be eligible for these grants, its solid waste
plan must meet minimum criteria.  Among them is inclusion of a
requirement that all solid waste be utilized for resource recovery,
disposed of in a sanitary landfill, or disposed of in some other
environmentally sound manner.  The plan must also provide for the
closing or upgrading of all existing open dumps.
     Criteria for identifying open dumps and for identifying sanitary
landfills are to be published by EPA no later than October 1977,
and the Agency is to conduct a national inventory of all open dumps
within the 12 months that follow.  The Act mandates that all open
dumps throughout the country must be closed or upgraded by 1983 and
forbids the creation of new dumps.  Special grant assistance to help
meet these new requirements for land disposal facilities will be
available for rural communities.  Twenty-five million dollars for
fiscal 1978 and 1979 is authorized for assistance to rural areas.
     Grants to a limited number of "special communities" are also
authorized.  These are to be communities of less than 25,000 popu-
lation, most of whose solid wast* comes from outside their boundaries,
causing serious environmental problems.
     Recognizing that States and many local governments will face

very difficult problems in meeting goals and requirements of this

legislation, the Act provides for technical assistance teams, called

''Resource Recovery and Conservation Panels," that will be available

to State and local governments on request.  The teams will be pre-

pared to assist in upgrading collection and disposal as well as in

developing resource recovery and resource conservation systems.  We

expect to field these teams from our Regional Offices, where they

can gain familiarity with conditions in specific geographic areas.

     Wide general authority is conferred by the law for studies,

research and development, demonstrations, training, and information

activities.  The authorization for these functions totals $45 Trillion

for fiscal 1978.  The objective is to strengthen and increase the

technological base, available expertise, and public understanding

that mist underlie State and local prograns in order for them to


     Demonstrations in resource recovery and improved solid waste

disposal facilities are authorized.  Studies are required in many

specific areas, including fli.vge management, source separation,

agricultural and mining wastes, actions to reduce waste generation,

collection methods, incentives for recycling, the imposition of

disposal charges on products, and the problems of acquiring land

for solid waste management facilities.

     In the task of building up the technology for solid waste

management, the Office of Solid Waste will continue to share

responsibility with EPA's Office of Research and Development,

In the energy recovery projects, FPA and the rnergy Research and

Development Administration are required to work out cooperative

arrangements.  The commercialization of proven resource recovery

technology is assigned by the Act to the Department of Commerce.

     A large-scale study of resource conservation will be under-


taken by an interagency committee headed by the EPA Administrator.

The study will cover the effects of current public policies on

resource use and the consequences for the environment and society,

and the potential effects of proposed measures, particularly the

imposition of disposal charges on products.

     In the provisions for information activities, special emphasis

is placed on rapid dissemination of information, on public education

programs, and a central reference library of solid waste management

data and other materials.  Ffforts are required not only to inform

the public but also to promote their participation in the develop-

ment of Federal and ?tate regulations, guidelines, and programs.

     The authorization for the Office of Solid Waste for general

administration of the programs under this Act is $35 million for

fiscal 1977--more than double the previous year's appropriation--

$38 million for fiscal 1978, and $42 million for fiscal 1979.  At

least 20 percent of this is to be used for the Resource Conservation

and Recover)' Panels described earlier and at least 30 percent for

carrying out the hazardous waste program.

     These are the major provisions of the law.  It is obvious from

the nature and number of specified activities and the increased

authorizations for funding that national perceptions of solid waste

management issues have undergone major changes.

     Perhaps of greatest significance is the heightened concern

about threats to health and environment from hazardous wastes and

from inadequately controlled land disposal.  This concern has

developed from damage incidents, from investigations of recent

years, and from the realization that pollution controls to protect

air, waterways, and oceans are resulting in rapidly mounting loads

of residues destined for the land, a heretofore largely unprotected

medium.  The provisions in the Act for Federal regulation of


hazardous wastes and the prohibition of open duping are the
strongest in the Act, and are unprecedented in Federal legislation
in the field of solid waste Management.  The Act clearly provides
for State administration and enforcement, with Federal power serving
as a necessary backstop where States fail to act.  The provisions
for assistance to the States for developing programs that meet
basic standards make that quite clear.
     For the first time, sludges are specifically included in the
definition of solid waste in the legislation.  Sewage sludge
disposal is already a perplexing, expensive problem for many cities,
and by 1985, the quantity of sewage sludge generated is expected to
double as a result of improved wastewater treatment.  Sludge is
prominent among those wastes that scientists and engineers believe
can be converted from a problem to an environmental asset.  Its
value as a soil conditioner for nonfood-chain use is widely known.
Since some sludges contain heavy metals and other contaminants,
the use of sludge for food crops requires careful analyses including
testing of both the sludge and the soil prior to applications.
Identifying safe, economic, and acceptable means of sludge disposal
and utilization is a matter of high priority for EPA.
     Sludge management represents only one of many instances in
the field of waste management where, partly in response to environ-
mental problems of disposal, attention has increasingly turned to
means of utilizing waste as a resource.
     Federal assistance for planning and building resource recovery
facilities is available under the Act for State, regional, and local
solid waste programs, and as demonstration grants.  No large financing
mechanisms or loan guarantee provisions were included in the Act,
but in view of the current level of technology and the unpredictability
of turjots for recovered products. t)»e emphasis OB regional and state -

wide planning and on demonstrations and evaluations at the Federal

level is appropriate.  Source separation methods for materials

recovery are also cited for support and study, and though lacking

the glamour of the large-scale technological systems that depend

in large measure on energy recovery for their economic viability,

source separation approaches may one day be regarded as the most

effective means of recovering materials from the waste stream.

     Waste reduction is clearly recognized in the Act as one of the

processes that make up sound solid waste management.  One of the

goals of Federal assistance to State and local programs is to

encourage resource conservation, and it is a required subject of

studies and information dissemination activities.  Further develop-

ment of methods and policies in resource conservation are needed.

Much of the interest in this area has in the past been concentrated

on returnable packaging, but there are many other issues, relating

to measures of greater and lesser economic scope, that also must

be resolved.  The studies required by the Act of public policies

related to resource use, including the concept of placing disposal

charges on products and thereby creating economic incentives to

avoid waste, should contribute substantially to a better under-

standing of the directions in which this country should move to

promote optimum resource use.

     The new law thus addresses issues in solid waste management

that have relatively recently come to the fore in the public

consciousness.   It also carries forward the continuing emphasis

on the State program as a major key to successfully unlocking the

opportunities inherent in waste problems.   The provisions of the

new Act for planning and program grants, technical assistance,

research and demonstrations,  and information collection and dis-

semination should all serve to enlarge the capabilities of both


State and i'-a'  gover  .ei  _-  r> i    ill tht. ^r increased responsibilities.

     The Office of Solid Waste in EPA is involved in the com-

plexities of getting the r'v Act under way.   The nature of RCRA

also demands the involvement of other components of EPA.  These

include, in addition to air, water, pesticides, and toxic sub-

stances components, the Office of Planning and Management, the

Offices of General Counsel and Fjiforcement,  the Office of Regional

and Intergovernmental Operations, gnd several activities under

the supervision of the Assistant Administrator for Research and

Development.  The last mentioned is especially important.  Major

needs in this field depend on a variety of research efforts cited

in Subtitle H of the Act.

     But of course this is not FPA's Act, it is the public's.

The far-ranging issues influenced by solid waste management caruiot

be properly characterized, let alone resolved, if the only actJve

participants in the process are the people who regularly rear the

technical literature.  The framers of the ,-Vt unde-stood this very

well and made it clear that solid waste is everybody's business.

Hence they called for rapid information dissemination, public-

education, and public participation programs.

     The public information and public participation requirements

of this legislation will be taken very seriously.  FPA's regional

offices will play a major role in this activity, to ensure full State

and local governmental involvement and benefit.  On December 16, 1976

the first informal Public Participation Meeting was held in Washington,

B.C. to give representatives of major governmental, industrial,

environmental, and other organizations the opportunity to give their

preliminary views, attitudes, and suggestions on the planning and

la'lenentation of the RCRA.

     The Act takes note of what is known, but just as certainly of


what isn't known.  Moreover, since scientific knowledge by its very

nature is always incomplete, public awareness, understanding, and

participation, are absolutely essential.  Without it, EPA would

have little, chance of defining and regulating hazardous wastes,

and even less of upgrading land disposal overall, phasing out the

use of open dumps, and bringing into existence a new magnitude of

activity in the areas of resource recovery and conservation.

     This field  is one in which, until quite recently, few of the

practitioners really thought of themselves as being governed by

the same environmental and public health considerations which have

long applied to  other environmental problems, such as air pollution.

The new Act makes it clear that this is an illusion which must be

cast off.

     Consider two quotations from Dr. Leroy E. Burney, who was

Surgeon General  of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1958, when

the first National Conference on Air Pollution was held, three

years after the  first Federal Air Pollution Act was passed.

Dr. Burney said:

     "In law, the suspect is innocent until his guilt has
     been proved beyond reasonable doubt.  In the protection        g

- ^^ to To wait for it is to invite disaster, or at least to § •* o suffer unnecessarily through long periods of time. "o tn" r? -2 ^ "Many years ago, before anyone had seen a germ, or o Jj .," £ P-* ® positively identified a single causative agent of epidemic IS ®. ^ *rt >» ** ^ diseases, farsighted leaders observed the association -p jj w ^ S 2 E ^ between epidemics and filth. Wherever they had sufficient § ,0 3 o 'H ~° foresight to act on this circumstantial evidence, they ^ co M £" made striking progress. Cleaning up the city filth j resulted in better health. Years later, they found ,- out why. 'w -11-

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          "I  suggest that our present position with respect to

          contemporai>• problems,  especially those  relating to

          *>ie urban environment,  may be parallel to that of

          Pasteur's predecessors."

     Later on,  in that same address. Dr. Bumey made another statement

     which also seems particularly pertinent to our situation in  solid

     waste management today.  He  said:

          "The problems that come as byproducts of our almost

          unbelieveable material  progress demand everybody's

          skills and knowledge.   More than that, they demand

          genuine cooperation.  We can no longer ask, Who's

          going to be in charge?  or Who's going to get the credit?

          We  must ask:  How can we most effectively work together?"