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EPA Redefines “Solid Waste” to Incentivize Creative Fuel Technology: Garbage to Gold

Since the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, 42 U.S.C. §6901, et seq.) first became law, consternation among the regulated community has grown as a principal purpose of RCRA, namely, to encourage discarded material reuse as fuel, appears to have been ignored in EPA’s rulemaking.  Perhaps that discouraging trend is coming to an end.  On February 21, 2011, EPA released a pre-publication version of a proposed Final Rule amending the definition of “solid waste.”  What is particularly encouraging about the Final Rule is that innovative technologies for creating fuels from materials that would have previously been characterized as a “solid waste” are excluded from the definition.  This opens the door to creative technologies to transform municipal garbage into useable fuels for utilities and industrial boilers.  Not only does this technology reduce the amount of precious landfill space being consumed by valuable organic material, but it also offers the prospect of reduced and more easily controlled emissions from industrial boilers and fossil-fueled electric utilities that promise to be large consumers of this significantly cheaper, high BTU content fuel.

In this Final Rule, EPA spells out how previously discarded non-hazardous secondary materials may be used in combustion units for fuel.   40 CFR §241.3(b)(4).  The Final Rule is careful to spell out the criteria for assuring the “legitimacy” of the non-hazardous secondary materials which are used as “fuel” or “ingredients” in combustion units.  40 CFR §§241.3(d)(1) and (d)(2).  With this change in approach by EPA to encourage development of fuels from discarded materials, entrepreneurs in the wings with off-the-shelf recycling technologies are now given EPA’s blessing to pursue a green solution to some of our country’s energy and emission reduction problems.

Copyright © 2020 Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume I, Number 77


About this Author


KIM K. BURKE serves as co-chair of Taft's Environmental Practice. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1980. After working for the Bureau of Legal Services of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, Mr. Burke became associated with a Pittsburgh law firm specializing in litigation and environmental matters. In 1981 Mr. Burke joined the Taft law firm, where he has concentrated in a variety of environmental law areas, including Superfund defense and negotiation, development and implementation of hazardous substance remedial investigation and...