Hazardous Waste:

Funding of Postclosure Liabilities Remains Uncertain

RCED-90-64: Published: Jun 1, 1990. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1990.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO studied options for managing liabilities associated with hazardous waste disposal facilities after closure.

GAO found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): (1) requires facilities obtaining operating permits to design and construct disposal units with waste migration prevention measures; (2) officials have identified activities, such as extended postclosure care and long-term research, to reduce the potential for leakage after facilities close; and (3) established financial requirements to ensure that funds are available to pay for postclosure liabilities. GAO also found that EPA needs to: (1) develop a strategy to comprehensively obtain data on the effectiveness of current disposal requirements; (2) examine long-term postclosure issues, such as insurance and risk pooling, to better ensure funding of postclosure liabilities; (3) implement a strategic plan for developing data and measures to assess postclosure risks, so that a postclosure funding mechanism can be better determined; and (4) pursue private and public funding options to better ensure that needed postclosure liability funds will be available.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA does not plan to develop a detailed strategy as recommended by GAO. However, it has finalized the liner/leak detection rule, which addresses shorter-term risks.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should develop and implement a strategy to address the long-term effectiveness of current hazardous waste disposal requirements so that decisions can be made about postclosure liability funding mechanisms. Such a strategy should outline the activities EPA needs to undertake and complete to assess postclosure risks, require evaluations of actions to reduce such risks as extended postclosure care, and assess available alternatives for funding postclosure liabilities. The strategy should also identify required EPA resources and establish time frames for completing such activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA takes interim measures to protect the public when releases occur from RCRA facilities. Fiscal year 1992 operating guidance requires EPA regions to do stabilization evaluation after initial assessment, but EPA is not periodically reporting to Congress its progress in obtaining data on the effectiveness of current disposal requirements.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should periodically report to Congress its progress in obtaining the necessary data on the effectiveness of current disposal requirements and, as information becomes available, be prepared to take interim measures to provide greater public protection until more definitive data are developed.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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