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#142 - Mr. Reilly's EPA Is Forcing States To Site 90 Hazardous Waste Incinerators, 14-Aug-1989

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun an aggressive
program to force states to site 90 hazardous waste incinerators. If a
state refuses, the EPA says it will cut off all Superfund aid for
cleanup of toxic dumps. In essence, the EPA is holding hostages-the
victims living near chemical dumps--and is threatening them bodily
harm, saying, "If you (state governments) want us to help these
unfortunate people, you will have to give industry what it wants, which
is 90 incinerators to burn chemical wastes." If Mr. Reilly succeeds in
this blackmail, industry will be able to burn all the hazardous waste
it wants during the next 20 years, removing a major incentive to cut
waste production.

In response, grass roots activists across the country will hold press
conferences and demonstrations August 17 at many locations, urging
state governments to resist EPA's arm-twisting on behalf of industry.
To find out how you can participate in the August 17 activities, phone
Linda Wallace Campbell in Alabama at (205) 652-9854. Ms. Campbell is
coordinating these demonstrations for the National Toxics Campaign,
headquartered in Boston [(617) 482-1477; ask for Michael Stein].

Background: Capacity Assurance Plans

In 1986, industry could see that they were losing the battle to site
new chemical waste facilities (dumps and incinerators). The people had
spoken at site after site across the country and the message was clear:
"Not in anybody's back yard, these things are too dangerous." So
industry lobbied Congress to get a new provision added to the Superfund
Law. As a result, by October 17, 1989, each state must prove to EPA
that their state has sufficient waste management capacity to handle all
the hazardous waste that will be created within the state during the
next 20 years, or they must show that they have agreements with other
states to send their wastes to other states. The proof that a state has
sufficient capacity is called a "Capacity Assurance Plan" or CAP. Each
state must produce a CAP by October 17 this year.

Naturally there are two ways to get sufficient capacity to manage
wastes: build new facilities to keep up with rising waste production,
or take steps now to reduce waste so that present facilities can do the
job.

It must be obvious to everyone that reducing waste is the better way.
Wastes that are never produced can't hurt anyone; they can't harm
workers; they can't poison unsuspecting families living near factories
or dumps or incinerators. Wastes that are never produced won't require
a high-priced EPA bureaucrat to measure them and evaluate their hazard;
no EPA engineer will be required to argue with the company that this
technology or that technology is the "best available control
technology" for this particular waste. Wastes that are never produced
won't require an EPA lawyer to take the polluter to court after the
polluter digs in its heels and refuses to stop polluting. Wastes that
are never produced cannot generate liability lawsuits against the waste
generator. Wastes that are never produced do not require the
expenditure of huge sums on doublelined landfills and much larger sums
cleaning up those double-lined dumps after they start leaking in a few
years. Wastes that are never produced are the cleanest, safest,
cheapest wastes imaginable. Who would argue otherwise, except some
pitiful waste junky hooked on the production of poisons for profit?

The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)--the research arm of the
United States Congress--estimates that 50% of all industrial wastes
produced today could be avoided during the next five years with
EXISTING TECHNOLOGY. No technical breakthroughs would be needed to cut
today's industrial hazardous wastes in half in five years, says OTA.
Obviously, with some effort, more than 50% could be cut.

Unfortunately, there are enormous forces pushing EPA to ignore common
sense and to require states to build new incinerators, instead of
requiring states to hammer industry to reduce wastes. First, the "waste
management industry" is now huge and is now dominated by some of
America's leading industrial giants. Monsanto, Dow, Westinghouse, GE
and many other Fortune 500 companies have all found business
opportunities in end-of-the-pipe waste treatment technology. Another
factor is the vast army of consulting firms that have sprung up within
the last 15 years. These consultants are known as "beltway bandits"
because their offices are clustered around the I-495 beltway that rings
Washington, DC, and because they charge high prices for warmed over
work that they store in their word processor and sell repeatedly to one
community after another, merely typing the name of a new client on the
cover sheet (in the trade this is called "boiler plate" and even the
best firms rely upon it). You know the names of these consulting firms
because you've come up against their risk assessments in local fights:
"Our state of the art assessment of this state of the art chemical
incinerator [or dump or whatever] shows that this facility presents no
immediate threat to health and safety; our mathematical models prove
that living 100 yards from this [fill in the blank] is safer than
eating two tablespoons of peanut butter and anyone who thinks otherwise
is a dangerously uninformed, or is motivated by selfishness and greed.
That will be $186,000, please.") We are only exaggerating slightly to
make a point. The "waste management" industry is now grossing $80
billion per year, so proposals to reduce wastes are not well-received
among their ranks. These people's jobs were created by the Clean Air
Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Safe
Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund Act. No wonder they aren't
promoting sensible public policies to start making all these laws
obsolete.

In addition, industry doesn't make serious efforts to reduce waste
because of simple inertia. Industries that are making money don't want
to risk any changes. For years, they have successfully run factories
making aspirin tablets or paint or whatever, passing the costs of waste
disposal onto future generations. Who knows? If they change how they do
things, they may not succeed. At the very least, there would be an
uncomfortable period when things were up in the air, which would mean
fewer afternoons on the golf links and, when it was all over, who could
guarantee it would work as well as the present system, which hums along
like a self-propelled money machine?

At bottom, the strongest objection to waste reduction may be simple
stubbornness. "Those damn nervous nellie nimbys and those power-hungry
bureaucrats in Washington don't get to tell ME what to do!" So there
you have it: many persuasive reasons why sensible public policies, like
waste reduction, are never tried and, in their place, the EPA is
pushing 90 hazardous waste incinerators.

But why would the EPA--especially the EPA headed by a professional
environmentalist like William Reilly-turn its back on sensible public
policy and cave in to irrational industry wishes? Only George Bush
knows the answer. He is the one who gives Mr. Reilly marching orders
and he is the one whose next fabulously expensive Presidential campaign
begins about 18 months from now.

For an excellent new 66-page booklet on these issues get: Sanford Lewis
and Marco Kaltofen, FROM POISON TO PREVENTION (Boston, MA: National
Toxics Campaign, 37 Temple Place, 4th fl., Boston, MA 02111); $15 for
community groups. For others, price unknown. Phone: (617) 482-1477.

FROM POISON TO PREVENTION describes the EPA's plan for covering the
nation with hazardous waste incinerators, details the hazards of these
incinerators, offers specific ideas for fighting the plan, and gives
detailed recommendations for industrial waste reduction.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: waste reduction; epa; ntc; waste treatment
technologies; hazardous waste incineration; air pollution; capacity
assurance planning; siting; regulations;