Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) Compliance and Defense - Federal Lawyer
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Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) Compliance and Defense

Our EPA Lawyers and Consultants Are Experienced in All Aspects of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Compliance

Carlton S. Patton
Carlton S. Patton
RCRA Team Lead
Former EPA CID Special Agent

The Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate hazardous waste “from cradle to grave.” Crucially, it also gives the EPA the authority to regulate non-hazardous waste in many circumstances. As a result, the RCRA’s scope is extremely broad, and companies in a wide range of industries must address RCRA compliance in various areas of their operations.

At Oberheiden P.C., we assist companies throughout the United States with all aspects of Resource Conservation Recovery Act compliance. We also defend companies facing RCRA-related scrutiny during EPA inspections and investigations. If you have questions or concerns about your company’s obligations under the RCRA, our lawyers and consultants can provide custom-tailored advice, and we can help you implement cost-effective solutions for mitigating your company’s environmental liability risk.

3 Key Areas of Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) Compliance

Broadly, companies’ compliance obligations under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act fall into three categories. Depending on the nature of a company’s operations, it may have obligations in one or more of these categories—all of which will carry equal weight and importance when it comes to environmental compliance and avoiding unnecessary EPA scrutiny. These three categories are: (i) hazardous waste; (ii) non-hazardous waste; and, (iii) issue-specific RCRA compliance.

1. Hazardous Waste

The Resource Conservation Recovery Act is one of the primary federal statutes regulating the management and discharge of hazardous waste. Enforcement responsibility lies with the EPA, which has developed a “comprehensive program” for ensuring corporate compliance that leverages both federal and state resources. As the EPA explains:

“Under Subtitle C [of the RCRA], EPA may authorize states to implement key provisions of hazardous waste requirements in lieu of the federal government. If a state program does not exist, EPA directly implements the hazardous waste requirements in that state. Subtitle C regulations set criteria for hazardous waste generators, transporters, and treatment, storage and disposal facilities. This includes permitting requirements, enforcement and corrective action or cleanup.”

Subtitle C of the RCRA establishes rules that govern not only all stages of the hazardous waste lifecycle, but also how hazardous waste management facilities and other companies manage their operations that involve hazardous substances. This includes (but is not limited to) rules governing:

  • Identification and listing of hazardous waste materials
  • Establishment and implementation of hazardous waste management systems
  • Generation of hazardous waste
  • Transportation of hazardous waste
  • Hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal
  • Land disposal restrictions
  • Permitting for certain commercial activities involving hazardous waste

In addition to rules that govern hazardous waste generally, Subtitle C of the RCRA also establishes specific standards for certain specific types of hazardous waste materials. These include hazardous waste materials containing precious metals and lead, among others. Subtitle C establishes specific standards for certain types of activities involving hazardous waste materials as well, such as recycling and burning.

Permitting requirements apply in many cases, and companies may need to obtain compliance certifications, or self-certify, to Subtitle C compliance as well. Our lawyers and consultants are familiar with all pertinent requirements, and we work closely with our clients to help them comprehensively identify their compliance obligations and manage effective hazardous waste compliance programs.

2. Non-Hazardous Waste

The RCRA also applies to certain business activities involving non-hazardous solid waste, like solid waste disposal facilities and municipal solid waste landfills. This significantly expands the statute’s scope of applicability, making it essential that companies engaged in the business of transporting or disposing of any form of non-hazardous solid wastes consult with EPA compliance counsel to ensure that they are meeting all pertinent statutory and regulatory requirements. As the EPA explains:

“Regulations established under Subtitle D [of the RCRA] ban open dumping of waste and set minimum federal criteria for the operation of municipal waste and industrial waste landfills, including design criteria, location restrictions, financial assurance, corrective action (cleanup), and closure requirement. . . . In [the] absence of an approved state program, the federal requirements must be met by waste facilities.”

Many companies overlook Subtitle D when assessing their compliance obligations under the RCRA; and, in doing so, they unknowingly and unnecessarily expose themselves to the potential for significant liability in the event of an EPA enforcement inspection or investigation. Our lawyers and consultants are intimately familiar with Subtitle D as well, and we help our clients implement comprehensive non-hazardous waste management practices and compliance programs when necessary.

3. Issue-Specific RCRA Compliance

Along with regulating hazardous waste and non-hazardous solid waste generally, the Resource Conservation Recovery Act also regulates various commercial activities that directly or indirectly present environmental risks related to waste storage and disposal. This includes commercial activities involving everything from medical waste to underground storage tanks. With our comprehensive approach to advising companies regarding RCRA compliance, and regarding environmental compliance generally, we help ensure that our clients understand and address all pertinent obligations in a timely manner.

Put our highly experienced team on your side

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Dr. Nick Oberheiden

Founder

Attorney-at-Law

Lynette S. Byrd
Lynette S. Byrd

Former DOJ Trial Attorney

Partner

Brian J. Kuester
Brian J. Kuester

Former U.S. Attorney

Amanda Marshall
Amanda Marshall

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

Joe Brown
Joe Brown

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

John W. Sellers
John W. Sellers

Former Senior DOJ Trial Attorney

Linda Julin McNamara
Linda Julin McNamara

Federal Appeals Attorney

Aaron L. Wiley
Aaron L. Wiley

Former DOJ attorney

Local Counsel

Roger Bach
Roger Bach

Former Special Agent (DOJ)

Chris Quick
Chris J. Quick

Former Special Agent (FBI & IRS-CI)

Michael S. Koslow
Michael S. Koslow

Former Supervisory Special Agent (DOD-OIG)

Ray Yuen
Ray Yuen

Former Supervisory Special Agent (FBI)

Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) Enforcement Defense

Noncompliance with the RCRA can expose companies (and their owners and executives) to substantial penalties. While many RCRA enforcement actions are civil in nature, the statute also includes criminal enforcement provisions that impose substantial fines and terms of imprisonment. Violations of the RCRA that can lead to criminal prosecution include:

  • Treatment, storage, or disposal without a permit
  • Treatment, storage, or disposal in violation of a permit
  • Transporting hazardous waste without a manifest
  • Transporting hazardous waste to an unpermitted facility
  • Making false statements or omitting material information in an EPA filing
  • Knowingly altering, destroying, or concealing records during an EPA inspection or investigation
  • Knowingly endangering wetlands, species, or other environmental resources
  • Illegally exporting hazardous waste outside of the United States

Most of these violations carry fines of up to $50,000 per day or a one-time fine of up to $1 million, plus anywhere from two to 15 years of federal imprisonment for the individuals involved. As a result, when facing scrutiny under the RCRA, it is imperative that targeted companies and individuals promptly engage experienced defense counsel to steer the inspection or investigation toward a favorable resolution. At Oberheiden P.C., our lawyers and consultants have extensive experience on both sides of federal law enforcement matters involving the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and other agencies, and we rely on this experience to protect our clients by all means available.

While the violations listed above can lead to criminal prosecution under the RCRA, these are by no means the only violations that can trigger EPA scrutiny. Even unintentional technical violations of the statute or its enabling regulations can expose companies to substantial civil monetary penalties (CMP), permit revocation, and other penalties. If your company is under scrutiny, our lawyers and consultants can help regardless of the specific allegations involved; and, if necessary, we can work with the EPA to target an amicable resolution that avoids formal charges and formal consequences.

FAQs: What Company Owners and Executives Need to Know About RCRA Compliance

What Substances Does the RCRA Regulate?

The Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) regulates both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. This includes all forms of hazardous waste materials and non-hazardous solid waste deposited in landfills and other long-term storage facilities.

What Types of Companies Need to Comply with the RCRA?

Companies involved in all stages of the hazardous waste lifecycle need to comply with the RCRA. This includes companies involved in hazardous waste generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal. Companies that transport, dispose of, and store non-hazardous solid waste must comply with the RCRA as well.

What Are the Risks of Failing to Comply with the RCRA?

The risks of failing to comply with the RCRA are substantial. Companies can lose their EPA (or state equivalent) permits, or they can be denied permits if they are engaging in unpermitted operations. They can also face substantial fines and other penalties. In some cases, RCRA violations can trigger criminal prosecution as well; and, in these cases, the individuals targeted in the government’s investigation can face both fines and federal imprisonment.

How is the RCRA Enforced?

The EPA works with state regulators to vigorously enforce the Resource Conservation Recovery Act. Along with permitting and certification mandates, these authorities also use inspections and investigations to assess and enforce compliance. As a result, companies that are subject to the RCRA must ensure not only that they are fully compliant, but also that they are prepared to demonstrate their compliance if necessary.

What Does RCRA Compliance Entail?

The steps involved in establishing compliance with the Resource Conservation Recovery Act vary greatly not only between industries, but also between companies within specific regulated industries—particularly when they are involved in different stages of the hazardous waste lifecycle. As a result, a custom-tailored approach is critical, and this makes it essential to work with experienced EPA compliance counsel.


Schedule a Complimentary Consultation with the EPA Compliance Team at Oberheiden P.C.

If you need to know more about Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) compliance, or if your company is facing scrutiny under the RCRA, we encourage you to contact us for more information. To speak with a senior member of our EPA compliance team in confidence, call 888-680-1745 or request a complimentary consultation online today.

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