EPA Seeks to Lighten the Record Keeping Load

Although it hasn't met its goal yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., is one step closer to reducing the record keeping and reporting burden on states by 40 percent by the year 2001.

As part of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) was passed by the federal government in 1995. The PRA established a government-wide goal to lessen the amount of paperwork the EPA requests annually of the public, states and the regulated community, beginning with a 25 percent reduction by Sept. 30, 1998. An additional 5 percent reduction is required each year by Sept. 30, until the 40 percent goal is reached on Sept. 30, 2001.

The EPA has achieved a 16 percent reduction rather than the 25 percent slated in the PRA, according to Laurie Solomon, environmental protection specialist with the EPA. The reduction is primarily due to the Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) rule, she says.

Before the rule, waste generators were required to provide notices to companies who treat the waste regarding the composition of the waste with every shipment. With the LDR rule, which went into effect in May 1997, generators only must send a notification with the initial waste shipment, resulting in a savings of more than 1.6 million burden hours a year. Solomon had no comment as to why the EPA did not make the 25 percent goal.

In June 1999, the EPA released a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) on the Internet to generate feedback from affected parties on reduction policies, and to explain its major reduction ideas and ongoing reduction efforts.

The information for the NODA was gathered over two years from roundtable discussions and workshops with academic and environmental leaders; meetings within the EPA; and a working group of environmental agencies in five states - Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania - and within five regions, headquartered in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Kan., and Seattle, according to Solomon.

"We had many ideas, and the working group reviewed and commented on them," she says. Like many other governmental organizations, the EPA frequently requests information voluntarily from constituents on health and environmental issues.

According to the NODA, the reporting and record keeping burden relates to gathering data (collecting and analyzing data, writing reports and filling out forms), keeping records (creating and maintaining a filing system) and submitting material to the EPA (writing a letter and mailing it).

"Reducing this burden would mean less time and money for industry and states," Solomon says.

The NODA suggests six ways to reduce paperwork: submitting and keeping records electronically; reducing reporting requirements for generators and treatment, storage and disposal fa- cilities (TSDFs); lengthening the time between facility self-inspections; changing personnel training requirements for RCRA; streamlining paperwork requirements for land disposal restrictions (LDR); and reducing the amount of data collected for RCRA-required biennial reports from hazard waste generators and TSDFs.

The EPA has decided not to focus on each 5 percent reduction goal specifically, Solomon says, but rather concentrate on implementing all ideas in the NODA, which would lead to reaching the 40 percent goal by 2001.

"With regard to the September 1999 goal [of an additional 5 percent reduction], we've chosen to bundle our burden reduction estimates in the bigger project described in the NODA," she says. "We cannot predict our pace of achieving that goal until we see the comments on the items we have presented."

The EPA is looking for feedback from the public and environmental officials on these suggestions and other information in the notice before it continues finalizing the document.

After the comment period, Solomon says the EPA will write a proposed rule, which will present changes to the regulations on the paperwork burden.

To view the NODA, visit the EPA website: www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/data/burdenreduction or call the RCRA Information Center, Arlington, Va., (703) 603-9230. To provide feedback, send an original and two copies of your remarks referencing docket number F-1999-IBRA-FFFF to: RCRA Docket Information Center, Office of Solid Waste (5305G), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 401 M Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20460. Comments also can be sent via e-mail to [email protected] Include the docket number in the message. The deadline to respond to the document is Sept. 20, 1999.

Recycling might be mandatory for residents of many U.S. states, but it's still optional in Congress, despite the recent efforts of one Congressman to make it mandatory.

Since 1991, some offices in the U.S. House of Representatives have participated in the voluntary Office Waste Recycling Program, established by the Architect of the Capitol. Staffers can recycle bottles, cans, newspaper, white paper, mixed paper and cardboard. However, because recycling is voluntary, there are no standards, according to Rochelle Dornatt, chief of staff for Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.

"It's not well-coordinated," she says. "Some people throw their newspapers in the hall, and the janitors come by and pick them up [to be recycled]. In other offices, who knows what they do?"

Farr's effort to streamline and mandate recycling in the House failed in June, when House members rejected his resolution requiring all employees of the House of Representatives to participate in the Office Waste Recycling Program.

The provision had been part of a $1.9 billion bill laying out Congressional financing for 2000. Money earned from the sale of recyclable materials to end-users would go to the House's child care center. The Senate does not have a similar program.

Farr's office has three separate containers for bottles and cans, white paper and mixed paper, and special bins to separate paper from wet waste, Dornatt says. This is because Farr feels strongly about the benefits of recycling, she says.

"He doesn't want to be seen as a tree hugger, but he sees recycling as a way to conserve resources and save money," Dornatt says.

Farr's provision was challenged by House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., who said it was against the rules to use a spending bill to change law.

"Procedurally, he was correct, but it also was a discretionary act," Farr says by phone from California, explaining that Thomas allegedly waived the rule for several other provisions. "Every place in America is recycling, but Congress seems to think it's above the law."

Although his recent resolution failed, Farr says he will continue to seek support and push for measures that would mandate recycling in the House of Representatives.

"It's a matter of getting the public to tell Congress to live up to the laws it tells everyone else to live up to," he says. "Eventually Congress will recycle because the American people are not going to let them get away with not doing it."