Hazardous Waste:

New Approach Needed to Manage the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

RCED-88-115: Published: Jul 19, 1988. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 1988.


Peter F. Guerrero
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GAO discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) progress in implementing Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) provisions to determine whether EPA was: (1) identifying and regulating hazardous wastes; (2) ensuring RCRA facilities' compliance with regulatory controls; and (3) encouraging waste minimization.

GAO found that: (1) EPA made limited progress in identifying and regulating hazardous wastes due to its changing approaches, inadequate resources, and absence of systematic implementation procedures; (2) Congress enacted prescriptive amendments to RCRA with numerous deadlines that imposed specific controls if EPA failed to meet them; (3) EPA completed action on less than half of the 76 specific deadlines Congress imposed, although it made some progress on the others; and (4) although EPA was developing a plan to specify waste identification tasks and identify needed resources, it had no timetable for completion or implementation. GAO also found that: (1) both private and government-owned facilities failed to comply with EPA regulations in the areas of groundwater monitoring, closure and post-closure, and financial assurance requirements; (2) although EPA developed a strategy requiring 90-percent compliance by 1989, it did not hold its regions or states accountable for meeting the goal; (3) although EPA was working to determine, by the end of 1990, the need for a mandatory waste minimization program, it had no set overall quantifiable goals for waste reduction due to its lack of data; and (4) EPA has been unable to develop comprehensive and reliable data to assess hazardous waste legislation, evaluate trends in regulatory compliance and waste minimization, and develop waste management priorities.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress may wish to amend RCRA to require EPA to undertake, in consultation with Congress, such a planning and management effort. The objective would be to establish measurable goals for priority areas and a long-term strategy to achieve the goals. Congress may also wish to expand RCRA annual reporting requirements to include a report on EPA progress in attaining the established goals.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Reauthorization of RCRA has been delayed indefinitely, and this recommendation has been open for 6 years with no action by Congress.

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To give a greater sense of direction to the RCRA program, the Administrator, EPA, should, in consultation with Congress, engage in strategic planning for priority efforts. This planning effort should include a strategy that identifies specific measurable goals, the tasks necessary to accomplish the goals, milestones, required resources, organizational responsibilities, and periodic reporting on progress in achieving the stated goals. An integral part of this strategy should include development of the data necessary to formulate and measure progress in attaining such goals. The priority efforts that make up this strategy should, at a minimum, include identifying and regulating hazardous wastes, ensuring regulatory compliance, and encouraging waste minimization.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA, in its RCRA implementation study, stated that it needs to prioritize its RCRA efforts and be more proactive in setting its agenda for the 1990s. On September 25, 1990, EPA wrote a letter to GAO stating that its actions called for in its RCRA implementation study were in response to the recommendation.

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