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January 7, 2015

Volume 17 Issue 52

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NORA Marches toward PCB Reform

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico – Continuing years of discourse with the U.S. Congress and Environmental Protection Agency, NORA said a more favorable stance on rerefining polychlorinated biphenyl-contaminated used oil is now within reach.

An Association of Responsible Recyclers is closer than ever to attaining relief from the federal Toxic Substances Control Act’s “inhibiting and overly restrictive regulations” on PCBs in rerefining operations, legal counsel Steven Shimberg told the group’s annual conference and trade show here in November.

“We’ve made tremendous progress and success is within our grasp,” said Shimberg, of SJSolutions in Washington, D.C.

NORA’s goal is to create a level playing field between the various methods of handling used oil – including energy recovery, incineration and rerefining. Existing rules prohibit rerefining any used oil contaminated with PCBs at 50 parts per million or more. Such oil cannot even be diluted to “safe” levels of less than 2 ppm.

Rerefiners who discover contaminated oil in their stream must undertake cleanup efforts at what some have called “crippling” costs, and can only dispose it at a specially permitted landfill or burn it at a specially permitted hazardous waste facility, at what many consider a great cost.

“Yes, the anti-dilution rule creates a deterrent to intentional dilution, but the problem from our point of view, is when the rule is applied to unintentional dilution,” he continued. “You can do everything possible to avoid PCBs, but they can end up [in a rerefinery] anyway. We’ve determined that the anti-dilution rule doesn’t work. All it does is impose additional costs, and it’s punitive, and it doesn’t serve any environmental purpose at that point.”

There is an approval process for rerefining PCB-contaminated dilutions of oil, but Shimberg noted that it “takes forever to get through and is time consuming, expensive and unnecessary.”

To fight for rerefiners, NORA appealed to Congress and EPA several years ago, urging the bodies to do two things: Create a conditional exception to the anti-dilution rule for companies that comply with NORA’s “best management practices,” and streamline and standardize the approval process for rerefining PCB-contaminated used oil.

Just short of influencing Congress to pass official reform due to a number of complications, NORA is now working directly with the EPA, having established that the agency has authority under existing regulations to grant relief.

“Congress failed to enact TSCA reform legislation this year and is unlikely to get it done anytime soon,” Shimberg said. “Fortunately, we saw this coming and shifted our focus from Congress to EPA, where we have received a terrific reception.”

The EPA is notorious for being difficult to work with, and for being anti-business, Shimberg claimed. “But that’s not been our experience on this particular project. We’re working with a group of EPA staffers who understand and agree with our set of problems, agree with our solutions, and sincerely want to help. They understand that recycling used oil can be environmentally positive. They want to encourage it and eliminate barriers to it. We got lucky with the team we’re working with.”

The next step for NORA is to help EPA develop and submit a risk-based approval application for relief. In this step, the two will work together to fine-tune NORA’s best management practices. “Past risk-based approval processes have taken between eight and 12 years, and we’re way ahead of that, partly because we’re coming in with an attitude of ‘let’s work together’.”

If NORA reaches its goal, the industry will have more management options based on “as found” concentration of PCBs, Shimberg said. “Furthermore, rerefiners will avoid the loss of valuable used oil, saving a significant amount of money, time and effort.”