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FRONT-PAGE: Group says EPA to blame for trash woes

WASHINGTON D.C.- Environmentalists from a group called Zero Waste America (ZWA) say the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is most to blame for what the group calls the proliferation of mega landfills, polluting waste incinerators, and the "trash wars" now being waged between several eastern states.

Zero Waste America says the growth of these facilities and conditions have largely been the result of EPA's failure to enforce the State Plan provisions of the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act.

In 1976, Congress asserted the EPA's authority over waste management in the United States with the passage of the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The Act required states to develop and implement "State Plans" that would maximize waste reduction and recycling. State Plans should have been submitted to the EPA, approved, and implemented in 1980. That timeline was not met, says the group, and the State Plan provisions of the Act have been largely ignored.

According to EPA officials, the agency abandoned its legal responsibility to enforce the State Plan provisions of the Act on the grounds that funding for that portion of the Act was pulled. Lack of funding is not an legitimate excuse to violate the Act, says Lynn Landes, Director of ZWA.  "Unfunded mandates are a fact of life, not an excuse to ignore the law," says Landes.

It should be noted, the group said, that funding was pulled by President Reagan in 1981, one year after the 1980 timeline for implementation of the plans.

The latest information on State Plans in EPA Headquarters files, dated 1987, reports that 25 states have EPA approved plans, six states have EPA partially approved plans, 12 states have plans adopted and submitted to EPA for review, 10 states have draft plans under review by the State or EPA, and two states that have not submitted a plan--Alaska and New Mexico. The District of Columbia, also required to submit a plan, has also not done so, ZWA said.

Even for those states who have an EPA approved plan, that does not guarantee their plans are in compliance with the Act. Pennsylvania's EPA approved plan, Act 101, only refers to recycling over waste disposal, and establishes a goal of 25% recycling. There is no plan that guarantees waste reduction and recycling. Philadelphia, the state's largest city, has a recycling rate of 7%.

Although EPA data indicates that waste disposal has decreased from 1.089 tons per person in 1990 to 0.89 in 1997, this data is unreliable, ZWA says. State reporting to the EPA of waste statistics is voluntary, another violation of the Act, according to environmentalists.

For additional information, contact Lynn Landes, Director of Zero Waste America, at (215) 493-1070.

Reprinted with permission from Refuse News.