Senate Panel Backs Contentious Extended Waivers of PCB Ban
by Defense Environment Alert
30 May 2006 –
Senate defense authorizers are endorsing a controversial DOD-proposed measure that would allow EPA to grant the military expanded waivers from a federal ban on importing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which would aid the military's disposal of PCB wastes it has generated at overseas bases.
But the measure is likely to face efforts to strike it on the Senate floor.
The language, included in the Senate version of the fiscal year 2007 defense authorization bill, would expand the waiver from one year to three years. The House version of the bill does not contain the amendment.
House and Senate sources critical of the extended waiver say it would allow a "rolling" exemption for DOD that directly contradicts the ban on PCB imports under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It is unclear why DOD should be treated differently than other entities who have successfully managed their foreign-manufactured waste, says a Senate Democratic source, who believes efforts will be made to strike the measure during floor consideration of the bill.
And at least one House source is taking issue with it, calling it "completely unnecessary and without merit." If the provision is pushed during the defense authorization bill conference, committees with jurisdiction over environmental matters would have to be included in the conference, the House source says. The measure should be solely under the jurisdiction of the environment committees, the source claims.
Under section 322 of the bill, EPA would be authorized to grant an exemption for up to three years to DOD or the military services "to transport [PCBs] generated by, or under the control of, the Department of Defense into the United States for purposes of their disposal, treatment, or storage," according to report language that accompanies the bill. EPA would be allowed to grant the three-year waivers until 2012.
Under the provision, DOD would be required to report to Congress by March 2011 on the remaining volume of PCBs that may require shipment and disposal in the United States, the report says.
The committee notes that the proposed waiver expansion "would not change the public notice and comment process required before the Administrator of the EPA is authorized to grant such a waiver."
"The committee expects the [Defense] Department to conduct appropriate planning to provide for the safe, orderly, and predictable storage, disposal, and shipment of [PCBs] generated outside the United States by, or under the control of, the Department."
The Defense Department sought the amendment because it wants the flexibility of a longer waiver period in order to make incremental shipments into the United States of PCB-containing waste for disposal, according to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). DLA in the past has struggled with disposal options for foreign-manufactured, military-owned PCBs located in host nations, and past DOD efforts to import PCB wastes have been controversial. Currently, TSCA bans their import unless EPA grants a one-year waiver for proper treatment and disposal in the United States.
But the House source has said the one-year waiver has been sufficient for DOD to bring PCBs back into the country and the longer waiver is a an effort to win a rolling exemption to the ban (Defense Environment Alert, April 18, p12).
A source with the Basel Action Network, an environmental group that follows international waste issues, says, however, that as long as the waste is properly managed in the United States, the amendment is a "positive step," noting that in some past cases, such as in the Philippines, the military left such waste upon departing its bases.
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