RCRA Clean-Up Reforms

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is changing the way they administer the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The following is background information, an overview of the reforms and how EPA is evaluating program success.


Congress originally adopted RCRA in 1976 and mandated significant amendments in 1984. The EPA's Office of Solid Waste is responsible for the proper management of solid and hazardous waste pursuant to RCRA. The EPA delegates RCRA authority to states having programs equivalent to the federal RCRA program. The RCRA Corrective Action program, adopted during the 1984 amendments, requires parties requesting RCRA permits to clean up environmental impacts at their sites.

The Reforms

The EPA, regulated parties and interest groups have recognized that the RCRA Corrective Action program is burdened. It is a slow, rigid process that is administratively heavy and progress lean, with cleanup goals that are sometimes unobtainable. The EPA wants to improve the program to be faster, focused and more flexible. To this end, the EPA is carrying out administrative reforms to RCRA designed to rectify Corrective Action program shortfalls. The EPA, and authorized states, are focused on new national cleanup goals, as follows:

  • Provide results-oriented clean up guidance with clear, practical objectives;

  • Promote program flexibility through training, outreach programs and new uses for enforcement tools; and

  • Improve community involvement.

The EPA will issue Federal Register notices and guidance documents stipulating details of the reforms. The EPA states that they will not take final action on parts of the July 27, 1990 proposed Subpart S rule, which had provisions for the original RCRA Corrective Action program. They point to the recent Hazardous Waste Identification Rule for Media (HWIR-Media) and Land Disposal Restrictions Phase IV alternative soil treatment standards as indicators to their reform commitments. The EPA reports that they will also adopt results-based approaches to site remediation by incorporating innovative clean up methods, focus site assessments and let regulated parties conduct clean up actions with reduced agency oversight. The EPA intends to encourage authorized states to adopt reforms into their programs quickly.

Throughout next year, the EPA will hold training for EPA Regions and states on Results-Based Corrective Action. In October 1999 during an EPA / Florida Department of Environmental Protection / Industry Workshop in Sarasota, Florida, the EPA said they might expand the training to regulated entities and consultants.

Evaluation Criteria

The absolute goal of a RCRA Corrective Action is final cleanup. In part, the EPA measures program success against Environmental Indicators. The two indicators are Current Human Exposure Under Control and Migration of Contaminated Groundwater Under Control. In short, the EPA compares historical and current site conditions (i.e., the nature and extent of soil and groundwater impacts) to site-specific risk factors. The indicators are used to show agencies where regulated parties need risk reduction at impacted sites.

In February 1999, the EPA began re-evaluating the Environmental Indicators for 1712 facilities with baseline data from 1990. The EPA was notifying facilities of their findings through October 1999. If the regulating agencies require no further risk reduction, they say the facility has achieved the criteria, and they need no further active remediation if site conditions remain the same. Otherwise, the agencies require facilities to concentrate their attention on problems that pose continuing risk, and make significant progress in controlling risk by the year 2005.

More information is available on RCRA Cleanup Reforms from the EPA.

Copyright © 2009 Douglas Grant, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Nov 4, 2014.