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Updated: NWRA Pushes for Regulatory Relief During COVID-19 Pandemic

NWRA Requests FHWA to Lift Weight Requirements During COVID-19 Pandemic
NWRA remains engaged with Congress and the administration to lift restrictions that would allow waste haulers to properly respond to COVID-19.

The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) is working diligently on behalf of the waste and recycling industry by remaining engaged with Congress and the Trump administration to include the waste industry in the national emergency declaration. Doing so would lift certain restrictions, allowing the waste industry to properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Members seeking information on the safe handling of waste during the COVID-19 pandemic can refer to NWRA's guidance.)

Weight Permits, Handling Requirements and Hours of Service

NWRA sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requesting the agency provide guidance to states to issue special weight permits during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the association sent a letter to state agencies seeking temporary exemptions to certain handling requirements for managing waste and recycling during the state of emergency. In its letter, NWRA said its members are preparing for what may be "an upheaval in the way material is managed."

"NWRA has made this request of FHWA to enable haulers to adequately respond to waste that will be generated from the COVID-19 pandemic. History has shown that where there is poor sanitation, disease and illness spread," said Darrell Smith, NWRA president and CEO, in a statement.

"NWRA has made this request of states to enable waste haulers to adequately respond to waste that will be generated during the COVID-19 pandemic," added Smith. "We are [also] urging the federal government to provide our industry relief from certain regulations so that the waste industry can properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic."

One state taking action on these requests is Virginia, which recently lifted hours of service (HOS) and weight restrictions in the state for waste operations responding to COVID-19.

“We thank Gov. [Ralph] Northam for including the waste industry in his waiver of weight and width restrictions as well as hours of service regulations. We urge the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to look favorably on our petition and do the same,” noted Smith.

On March 20, NWRA announced that FMCSA released its Expanded Emergency Declaration and an accompanying Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document as it relates to HOS regulations during the COVID-19 national emergency. The new declaration and FAQs that specifically exempt waste haulers from HOS are in direct response to a request by NWRA in a letter to Acting Administrator Jim Mullen. Other requirements under Parts 390-399, which include vehicle maintenance, inspection and driver qualifications, are also waived for waste haulers.

The declaration is as follows:

This Emergency Declaration provides regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks, including transportation to meet immediate needs for:  . . .  (2) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19  . . .  

The FAQ issued by FMCSA clarifies this specifically with regard to the waste and recycling industry:

Are haulers of household waste and medical waste covered under the terms of the declaration? Yes, transportation for removal of both household and medical waste is covered as “supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19.”

“We extend our thanks to FMCSA for recognizing the vital role of the waste industry by including us in their Expanded Emergency Declaration. NWRA remains committed to working with federal and state officials to ensure our members can properly and safely respond to this health crisis,” said Smith.

Commercial Driver's Licenses, Drug Testing and Health Physicals 

In an effort to further support industry members, NWRA sent a letter to FMCSA requesting relief on expiring commercial driver's licenses, guidance on drug testing and extensions for expiring physicals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"While the healthcare system is fully focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, NWRA is requesting FMCSA provide relief from expiring physicals and guidance to comply with drug testing," said Smith in a statement. "Furthermore, some states have reduced hours or closed offices that have impacted our drivers whose licenses are about to expire. We believe an exemption from these regulations would allow our member companies to safely respond to waste generated during the pandemic."

Shortly after the letter was sent, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance issued guidance on Compliance with DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations. The guidance provides clarification to DOT-regulated employers, employees and service agents on conducting DOT drug and alcohol testing given concerns about COVID-19.

“Our member’s want to do the right thing and follow the law but also understand the strain the COVID-19 pandemic is putting on our medical infrastructure. This clarification will enable our members to continue to follow the law and provide an essential service to our country,” said Smith.

In addition, FMCSA issued a Notice of Enforcement Policy regarding expiring driver’s licenses and medical examiner’s certificates during the COVID-19 national emergency. The Notice of Enforcement Policy goes into effect on March 24 and expires on June 30.

“We thank the DOT and FMCSA for issuing the Notice of Enforcement Policy. Many states have closed their state driver’s licensing agencies in response to the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control to use social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Smith.

Additional Regulatory Flexibility

NWRA sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the nation’s COVID-19 response task force, requesting additional regulatory flexibility during the declared national emergency. This letter follows similar outreach NWRA has made to Congress, federal agencies and state governments.

“NWRA appreciates Vice President Pence’s leadership during this crisis. We know that where there is poor sanitation, disease and illness spread,” said Smith. “NWRA member companies would like to be prepared for what we anticipate may be upheavals in the way solid waste is managed, and the flexibility we are requesting will help us be better prepared.”

NWRA is concerned that without the necessary flexibility, disruptions may occur that would impact the collection and processing of waste and recyclables. Disruptions could occur for a variety of reasons, such as impacts to collection and facility operations as a result of employees becoming ill from community spread of COVID-19; limited availability of personal protective equipment due to panic buying by the public; and difficulty marketing or moving recyclable materials due to limited exporting capacity and additional constraints at materials recovery facilities.

NWRA also penned letters to the National Governors Association, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties urging regulatory flexibility from state and local governments.

“Every state and Washington, D.C., have declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to limit the spread and threat of the disease and to ensure necessary services are available. With this in mind, NWRA members would like to be prepared for what we anticipate may be upheavals in the way material is managed. We are requesting flexibility from state and local regulations to ensure our member companies can continue to operate to uphold public health,” said Smith.

Designating Waste Collection as "Essential Critical Infrastructure"

On March 19, NWRA sent letters to the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services requesting that the departments designate the waste and recycling industry as critical infrastructure during times of declared national emergencies.

“We are requesting this designation during the COVID-19 pandemic so that our members can appropriately manage waste and recycling material during this health crisis. It is crucial that regular waste collection be maintained in order to protect the public health,” said Smith.

In response to NWRA's request, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recognized solid waste collection workers as part of the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce.

DHS designated the industry under its Public Works category:

  • Support to ensure the effective removal, storage and disposal of residential and commercial solid waste and hazardous waste.

And under its Transportation and Logistics category:

  • Truck drivers who haul hazardous and waste materials to support critical infrastructure, capabilities, functions and services.

While most other professions were grouped together on a single line, it is especially telling that waste collection received its own language in two separate sections.

“This is a major win for the waste industry and for the advocacy program at NWRA. I am proud of my staff for remaining at their posts during this national crisis and providing support to our members. We do in fact represent a critical industry, and the NWRA staff have been working overtime to ensure that government rules and regulations do not impede the industry’s efforts to protect public health. We extend our thanks to DHS for recognizing the vital role of the waste industry,” commented Smith.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries also sent a letter to Pence requesting that all recycling operations across the U.S. be designated “essential” to public health and welfare, as well as to the nation’s economic infrastructure. This designation from DHS, however, does not include recycling operations.

On March 31, NWRA announced that it wrote to 14 governors urging them to designate solid waste collection as an essential service in their state. This designation helps ensure that solid waste collection workers can operate to uphold public health.

“Every state and Washington, D.C., have declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to limit the spread and threat of the disease and to ensure necessary services are available. We thank the 36 governors whose states recognize waste collection workers as essential during this global health crisis. With this in mind, NWRA is urging those governors [who] have not yet designated the solid waste industry as essential to do so, just [as] the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency did,” stated Smith.

Landfill Regulations

Shortly after DHS' designation, NWRA wrote to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler seeking flexibility from certain regulations.

“NWRA members would like to be prepared for what we anticipate may be upheavals in our ability to comply with permits. Landfills are subject to regulatory requirements under Subtitle D of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). These regulations subject landfills to a significant number of time-sensitive requirements. We ask that requirements that do not affect public health or endanger the environment are suspended,” stated Smith.

Industry Inclusion in the Economic Stimulus Legislation

NWRA penned a letter to Congress urging it to include financial assistance for the waste and recycling industry in COVID-19 economic stimulus legislation while the industry continues to provide essential public health services even as customers are suspending service during this national emergency.

In its letter, NWRA calls on Congress to provide disaster relief funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a COVID-19 stimulus package to cover services provided by companies across the country related to customer bad debt and other non-compensated costs incurred for services being provided to the public during this health crisis.

“During this national emergency, NWRA members will continue providing waste and recycling services to their customers and elsewhere as may be needed regardless of one’s ability to pay in order to protect the public’s health and safety,” stated Smith. “Providing these essential services to those unable to pay as a result of economic hardships caused by COVID-19 while continuing to employ the workforce needed to support such an effort will require assistance.”

The solid waste industry directly employs nearly 470,000 people with a total payroll of more than $29 billion. It is estimated that the private sector waste and recycling industry accounts for more than 1 million jobs.

On March 22, NWRA sent a letter calling upon Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to prioritize critical infrastructure industries, which includes waste and recycling, in the stimulus package that is under consideration in Congress.

“Our member companies collect residential, commercial, industrial and medical waste. Our services are vital to protect public health. We will continue to operate throughout this crisis, and, at times, we will not be compensated. We ask that the economic stimulus package prioritize assistance to critical infrastructure industries as identified by the Department of Homeland Security,” said Smith.

In a further attempt to include the industry in the economic stimulus package, NWRA is urging members to contact senators ahead of the economic stimulus vote.

NWRA also joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, local chambers of commerce and other nonprofit organizations from across the country on a letter to Congress urging support for financial assistance in the COVID-19 economic stimulus legislation.

“NWRA is proud to join other nonprofit organizations from across the country on this letter. Congress was right to make certain nonprofit organizations eligible for aid. Without this assistance, many of these organizations will have to close their doors, leaving members without the vital services these associations and their employees provide to their industries and professions. We urge Congress to extend this assistance to local chambers of commerce and trade groups,” commented Smith.

On March 25, NWRA took further action by urging Congress to take up the economic stimulus package and pass it without delay. According to NWRA, the legislation includes important financial assistance for businesses—large and small—including loans, tax credits and other provisions aimed at incentivizing employers to keep workers on the payroll during the crisis.

“We urge Congress to move quickly to pass this vitally important legislation. We know from history that without regular waste collection, illness and disease spread. The provisions in the legislation will help our members continue to operate during this health crisis,” said Smith.

Provisions important to NWRA members include: an employee retention credit for employers subject to closure due to COVID-19; delay of payment of employer payroll taxes; modifications for net operating losses, which expands carryovers and carrybacks for losses, which can help with bad debts incurred when companies continue their services despite non-payment or provide services that are non-compensated; modifications of limitation on business interest; and loans both through the Small Business Administration and the “Coronavirus Economic Stabilization Act of 2020.”

Financial Assistance for Non-compensated Services and Small Businesses

In a letter sent to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor, NWRA requested that FEMA establish a system to compensate the waste and recycling industry for providing services to protect public health and safety that would otherwise go unpaid. NWRA also shared copies of the letter with Pence, who is leading the nation’s COVID-19 response task force, and the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery, which has oversight of FEMA.

“Providing these essential services to those unable to pay as a result of economic hardships caused by COVID-19 while continuing to employ the workforce needed to support such an effort will require assistance,” wrote Smith. “NWRA requests that FEMA establish a vehicle under disaster debris management plans or by other alternative direct compensation means as selected by FEMA to compensate the waste and recycling industry for providing non-compensated services to protect public health and safety during this time of national emergency. NWRA asks specifically for funding to cover services provided across the country related to customer bad debt and other non-compensated costs incurred for services being provided to the public during this national emergency.”

NWRA also joined other trade associations on a letter to President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Senate and House leaders urging support for additional financial assistance to help businesses remain open during the COVID-19 health crisis. In the letter, the groups propose the “COVID-19 Business and Employee Continuity and Recovery Fund” to further assist with economic recovery.

“NWRA thanks the president and Congress, for working together to pass the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act. There are provisions in that law that are important to our member companies. We also believe there is a need for a short-term and immediate pathway forward to help businesses retain and rehire employees, maintain benefits for employees and meet operating expense obligations,” said Smith.

Securing Personal Protective Equipment for Industry Workers

NWRA sent a request to Gaynor asking that FEMA list waste and recycling as a priority industry with vendors of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“This request is made to continue a high-level of public health not only related to the COVID-19 pandemic but the other numerous public health issues that result when regular waste collection does not occur,” said Smith. “Our workers are on the frontlines making sure that the waste that is generated during this health crisis is disposed of properly. They cannot do that without the appropriate PPE as indicated by OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration].”

NWRA also thanked Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) for his letter to FEMA and the White House Coronavirus Task Force in support of PPE for solid waste workers and others on the frontlines.

“We thank Senator Markey for his hard work and support to ensure waste collection workers and all those who provide essential services have the equipment to work safely,” stated Smith. “We agree that these frontline workers should not risk their lives providing an essential service.”

Guidance Related to the Registration of New Vehicles

NWRA wrote to the nation’s governors requesting that each state issue guidance related to the registration of new vehicles. NWRA member companies continue to operate and have collection vehicles that need to be properly registered with the state motor vehicle agency before they enter service.

“NWRA members remain on the job during the COVID-19 health crisis. While we have found the states to be flexible on extending current registrations, the issuance of first-time registration plates for new vehicles has yet to be addressed. We urge quick consideration of this request so that our member companies can continue to provide these essential services for the public health,” said Smith.

COVID-19 Tests for Businesses and Worksites

NWRA joined the National Safety Council and other trade associations on a letter to the White House urging the federal government to make COVID-19 testing available to employers maintaining operations during the health crisis. 

“We urge the federal government to provide testing resources to essential businesses that continue to operate. Without access to testing, employees may be asymptomatic and spread the disease to co-workers and the public,” stated Smith.

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