Environmental Justice and Environmental Protection

Several laws and agencies exist to protect human and environmental health. The Environmental Protection Agency is the primary organization that regulates environmental statutes enacted by congress. Whether or not explicitly stated within statute, environmental laws directly and or indirectly promote environmental justice.  The goal of such legislation is to protect all citizens and ensure a safe, healthy environment.  Many stakeholders are involved in the process, such as congress (writes and passes legislation), administrative agencies that implement and enforce these environmental laws (such as the EPA), industry that is regulated by such statutes and regulations, non-government organizations (NGO’s) or non-profit organizations (interest to protect humans and environment, without industry consideration), and the general public (citizens). This paper will specifically focus on the following three statutes:

  1. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)and the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA),
  2. Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), and
  3. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Each act will be evaluated along with its corresponding social and economic impacts, as well as its provisions for addressing environmental justice.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA)

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The sale, use and distribution of pesticides are governed under FIFRA (amended by FQPA in 1996) According to 7 U.S. Code § 136 (1947, 1996),

A pesticide is (1) any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, (2) any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant, and (3) any nitrogen stabilizer.

The purpose of this statute is to protect the public and environment through the regulation of pesticides. The EPA is the authorized agency that regulates and enforces this statute.  Regulations on pesticides can be found in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Each pesticide (which includes antimicrobial products such as disinfectants and sanitizers) must be registered with the EPA.  To obtain registration, the product must undergo extensive testing (using approved test methods and conditions) under Good Laboratory Practices (characterizations of active ingredient, efficacy studies, product chemistry studies, storage stability study, toxicity studies, etc.).  This ensures that the product shows proven efficacy and safety standards.  FQPA amended FIFRA in 1996, to require that every 15 years, active ingredients and end use products are re-reviewed, or there is a Data Call-In issued, to ensure that the product meets current standards, as methods and criteria changes (EPA, 2017).

The EPA requires annual pesticide production reports, annual pesticide maintenance fees, and requires processes for applicants wishing to change a label, claim, or use for a pesticide.  Worker protection standards on the label are also heavily regulated.  Each pesticide requires a confidential statement of formula to be sent with its application for registration. Each ingredient in the formula is reviewed against the agency’s database for inert or active ingredients.  Toxicity and environmental fate of each ingredient is in that database.  FQPA amendments also requires the agency to determine safe residue levels for food contact surface products, such as sanitizers.  Such key elements protect the public by providing sufficient safety and precautionary warnings and ensuring efficacious products.

Stakeholders involved or affected in this legislation are the EPA (establish rules & regulations, monitor and enforce), industry being regulated (Chemical companies, product manufacturers, regulatory consultants, agriculture companies), non-government groups (National Resource Defense Council, Earth Justice, etc.), and the public (may give input through the public notice and comment process when EPA proposes a new rule). The public, NGO’s and industry have influence on rules and regulations through the Federal Register in the public commenting period. Cost is certainly incurred by industry to initiate and maintain pesticide registrations. Efficacy, product chemistry and acute toxicity testing are upwards of $100,000.  Additionally, each registration is charged on an annual basis by the agency as a maintenance fee. Upon initial review (and any subsequent submissions requiring data review by the agency), a Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) fee must be paid (fees are based on review type). Such criteria provide benefits to the public and NGO’s, to guarantee safe and effective products in the marketplace. That same safeguard provides consumer confidence, which may increase sales for companies that incur such registration costs.

As stated previously, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is authorized by statute to regulate pesticides.  If companies do not comply with reporting requirements or registration requirements, the following courses of action may be taken by the agency:

An administrative notice of non-compliance or an administrative order to comply that may include violation fees or penalties (i.e. stop sale of a misbranded pesticide, registration cancellation, etc.) may be issued. These may be resolved through settlements or civil penalties.

The agency may file a civil judicial case through the U.S. Department of Justice.  These cases may be resolved by consent decrees.

In rare cases, the EPA may file a criminal judicial case through the U.S. DOJ.  Such punishments may be imprisonment or criminal penalties.

The cost of non-action is certainly more burdensome than regulation. Without such regulations in place, worker protection standards and precautionary statements on labels would not be required.  The potential health effects and healthcare costs from a lack of personal protective equipment would be astronomical. Additionally, an absence of efficacy requirements could potentially increase sickness and associated health costs if antimicrobial products were not effective.  Lastly, environmental health would suffer from nonexistent regulations of pesticides.  Each ingredient in pesticides is in a database, and their environmental and aquatic fate are reviewed. A lack of regulation could contaminate water sources through agricultural runoff, contaminating drinking water and threatening aquatic life.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA)

EPCRA is a statute that falls under Title III of the Superfund Amendment Reauthorization Act (SARA), which reauthorized the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act. The purpose of this statute is to require facilities that store hazardous chemicals to inform their state and local emergency planning committees of the chemicals on site, their location, their hazards and their release.  As a result, two annual reports are required: Tier II Reporting and Toxic Release Inventory Reporting.  These reports keep emergency planning committees, commissions and the public informed of exposures and hazardous chemicals located in or near their area.  Additionally, the EPA can monitor how effective mitigation or pollution prevention plans are, from year to year comparisons.

Tier II reporting requires facilities to report which hazardous chemicals (chemicals that require a safety data sheet) are stored at their facility, their location within the facility, and to list the hazards of each chemical (physical and health hazards according to OSHA GHS classification). SARA 311 and 312 regulated chemicals as well as 302 (extremely hazardous chemicals) are required to be reported.  The threshold for 311/312 chemicals is 10,000 pounds at any one given time, and the threshold for extremely hazardous chemicals is 500 pounds at any one given time (EPA, 2018.). Reports are due to state and local EPC’s, as well as the local fire department.

The Toxic Release Inventory is in section 313 of EPCRA.  TRI chemicals in section 313 and section 302 are required to be reported on an annual basis. TRI chemicals are those that can potentially carcinogenic or cause serious human or environmental health effects (EPA, n.d.). The purpose of this program and its reporting requirement is to inform the public through access to inventory of exposure and release of these chemicals and pollutants in their local area.  Industries required to report under this program must declare the quantity of each TRI chemical over threshold limits that is present, the uses of that chemical, on-site releases into environment (land, air, water), the amount taken to off-site facilities, and whether it was disposed of off-site or treated (EPA, 2017.). Thresholds for each chemical is listed in section 313. The data is entered into a dataset and published for public access by the end of the year.

Key stakeholders for this EPCRA are industry (companies that manufacture and/or release section 313/302 chemicals), the EPA (administrative agency authorized to implement and regulate EPCRA), state emergency response committees (SERC’s), local emergency planning committees (LEPC’s), non-government organizations seeking prevention pollution resolutions, and the public (citizens have public access to toxic release inventories). Costs incurred by industry are minimal, as there are no fees for reporting, or for having Sections 311/312 or 302/313 chemicals present at facilities. However, NGO’s and the public may call the need for action or release mitigation plans, as a result of accessing release data in their area.  This can potentially hinder a company’s reputation. On the other hand, this may be a driver in an industry shift towards better waste reduction plans, the use of alternative chemicals/reduced use of section 311/312/302/313 chemicals, and better pollution prevention practices. Additionally, emergency planning committees value this information as a function of first responder preparedness.

As noted above, the EPA is the agency authorized by congress to implement, monitor and enforce EPCRA. TRI reporting is submitted directly to the EPA. Facilities do not submit their Tier II reports directly to the agency, but instead submits to their state and local emergency planning committees. Information from both reports is published for public access. The EPA has the authority to issue a variation of penalties for EPCRA non-compliance, such as: administrative notice of non-compliance, administrative order to become in compliance with EPCRA requirements, civil/administrative penalties, or even criminal prosecution through the U.S. DOJ judicial filing. Additionally, state emergency response commissions and local emergency planning committees are authorized under section 326 to issue civil penalties or actions against facilities with a non-compliance status (EPA, 2018).

The social, economic and environmental impacts of non-action could potentially be catastrophic. Emergency response teams must be aware and prepared to respond to emergency and exposures to such hazardous chemicals.  Not knowing these hazards can lead to insufficient response measures, which can be dangerous, and even perhaps life-threatening to such responders. Additionally, a lack of such regulation or action could result in facilities storing or releasing hazardous or extremely hazardous chemicals in and illegal or unsafe manner, thus threatening the public and environment to toxic chemical exposure.

Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA)

RCRA was enacted by congress ins 1976, and its purpose is to govern hazardous and non-hazardous waste management and disposal. RCRA was amended in 1984 by the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendment, which authorized corrective actions for violations (EPA, 2017.). The U.S. EPA is the authorized administrative agency that implements, enforces and regulates RCRA, while individual states may also implement their own hazardous waste program that meets federal requirements. This statute protects the public and the environment through the regulations of the generation, storage, transport and disposal of hazardous wastes. Each party involved in this process must comply with RCRA regulations. This statute protects the environment and public from exposures to harmful or toxic wastes.

Waste generators in three separate categories: Very small quantity generators (1,000 kg/month) (Generator Category Determination, 2016). Storage and reporting requirements vary in each category, with large quantity generators having to submit a hazardous waste report every two years. Identifying a hazardous waste can be somewhat of a lengthy process.  There is a list of certain identified hazardous wastes, but others must be identified by the generator based on characteristics of reactivity, corrosivity, ignitability and toxicity. Generators must obtain an EPA identification number and notify the state and EPA of hazardous waste practices, then store, transport and dispose of according to federal and state regulations. For small and large quantity generators, hazardous wastes may only be stored in certain types of containers. Hazardous waste may only be stored on site for a period of 180 days for small quantity generators, and 90 days for large quantity generators. Waste must be transported to a disposal or reprocessing facility after that timeframe. A waste manifest must accompany any hazardous waste during transport. Large generators must also have a waste minimization plan in place as well as control air emissions from storage containers. Regulations for storage and transit minimize the chance of human, air, water or ground contamination or exposure.

Transporters must also meet RCRA regulations, particularly the waste manifest requirement. The manifest must be created by the generator and supplied to each party involved in the transport and disposal process from thereafter. All parties must maintain a copy of the waste manifest (generator, transporter, off-site storage/treatment/disposal site/facility). Hazardous waste facilities must obtain a RCRA permit, and comply with RCRA regulations for Treatment, Storage, & Disposal Facilities. A state permit must also be obtained by the facility. These regulations and requirements protect human and environmental health by ensuring safe and effective treatment or storage of hazardous chemicals.

Key stakeholders involved in this statute are the EPA (implementation, monitoring, enforcement), State agencies (issue permits and implement RCRA or their own hazardous waste programs and regulations), industry (generators, transporters and treatment, storage & disposal facilities), and the public at risk for exposures to improper handling or storage of hazardous wastes. Costs may be incurred by industry in the form of training programs for personnel, storage containers and transportation of hazardous wastes. However, the benefit is the minimization of hazardous waste contamination to air, water, land and human exposure incidences.

As previously discussed. The EPA is also the agency with authority to enforce and regulate RCRA statute. Additionally, state agencies such as state environmental protection or quality departments have authority to implement RCRA or their own program (given that it is at least as stringent as federal regulations). The EPA may seek civil penalties in the form of administrative notices of noncompliance, orders to comply, revoking of permits, civil or administrative penalties, civil lawsuits or even criminal action/lawsuits.  States may also pursue their own course of civil or criminal penalties for violations of state laws. RCRA violations often also result in Clean Air Act violations and Clean Water Act violations, due to the nature of improper storage causing contamination to water or air emissions.

There are significant costs associated with non-action or lack of regulation for hazardous wastes. Noncompliance of RCRA regulations can be devastating to the environment and human health.  Without this statute, facilities may store and handle hazardous wastes improperly, causing contamination to water sources (harming humans and aquatic life), explosions or emissions (air emissions or contaminants/pollutants), and human and or employee exposure to toxic/hazardous wastes leading to illness or death.

Conclusion

It is evident that regulations are necessary to protect public health and the environment. These statutes exist to secure environmental justice and promote a safe and healthy environment for everyone. The EPA’s continuous commitment to monitoring and enforcing these regulations ensures environmental justice to all communities.  Many environmental statutes were enacted as a result to some sort of environmental catastrophe.  For example, EPCRA was in response to a devastating incident in Bhopal, India that killed several thousand people. From these incidences, arises legislation that is protective of the health of citizens and the environment. Irreparable damages to the environment ultimately effect human health at some point. Environmental justice is a result of having a strong and powerful EPA (McCarthy & Burke, 2017).

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Environmental Justice and Environmental Protection. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/environmental-justice-and-environmental-protection/