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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

EPA Issues Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

November 29, 2016

Following the signing of a much-anticipated Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule in late October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the rule on November 28. Virtually all colleges and universities are generators of hazardous waste, from laboratories, art studios, physical plant operations, and more, and may be impacted by this rule. 

This comprehensive update to the hazardous waste regulatory regime under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) reorganizes and consolidates the relevant regulations into 40 CFR Part 262 (with several exceptions). 

The EPA began working on updates to the rule last September in order to incorporate subregulatory guidance that has been issued since the rules were originally promulgated in 1980, fill gaps in the regulations that reduced effectiveness, and increase flexibility to varying types of generators. 

Upon the EPA’s publication of proposed changes last year, NACUBO took the lead in weighing in on the proposed changes in a comment letter supporting comprehensive comments filed by the Campus Safety Health and Environmental Management Association. The American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities also signed on.  

A number of proposed updates NACUBO supported were included in the final rule, including: 

  • Allowing very small quantity generators (previously known as "conditionally exempt small quantity generators") to send hazardous waste to a large quantity generator under the control of the same person and consolidate it there before sending it on to management at a RCRA-designated facility. 
  • Allowing small or very small quantity generators to maintain their existing generator category in cases of infrequent events that may cause a quantity of hazardous waste to be generated in a calendar month that would otherwise bump the generator into a more stringent generator regulatory category.
  • Clarifying that the EPA never intended a mention of “other determinations” with regards to recordkeeping requirements of the rule to mean that records of non-hazardous waste determinations must also be maintained. However, the EPA does add the caveat that retention of the term “other determinations” in the new rule could mean that some state regulatory regimes will continue to operate under this more stringent interpretation and even recommends that such determinations be recorded as part of “best practices” efforts.
  • Eliminating a proposed labeling requirement that would require labels to contain an indication of the hazards of the contents of hazardous waste containers.
  • Eliminating a proposed requirement that waste determination records be kept for the entire life of a facility; under the new rule, waste determination records are required to be kept for only three years.  

One proposed provision the higher education community strongly opposed was included in the final rule. This change requires hazardous waste determinations be made at the point of generation. This poses a huge challenge for colleges and universities that have multiple generation points and limited numbers of staff qualified to make accurate waste determinations. 

While the new rule doesn’t take effect until May 30, 2017, in states that operate under authorized plans, changes must first be adopted on the state level. States are required to follow EPA rules when they are more stringent than state rules but may choose whether to adopt those that are less stringent. 

The EPA is offering a webinar on the updates on December 5, which currently has a wait list, and on January 9. The webinar should present campus environmental compliance officers an opportunity to learn more about the new regulations, and will also be recorded for on-demand viewing later. Additionally, the EPA maintains a website on the rule featuring resources, a fact sheet, an FAQ, and more.  

It should be noted that while President-elect Donald Trump has frequently mentioned rolling back Obama administration regulations, including many promulgated by the EPA, this rule, which is primarily perceived to decrease regulatory burden, is unlikely to be cut by a Republican Congress and president.


Megan Schneider
Assistant Director, Federal Affairs

Sally Grans Korsh
Director, Facilities Management and Environmental Policy