Confusion Drives Firms Away From EPA Waste Tracking System (1)

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By Sylvia Carignan

Companies are perplexed about how to use the EPA’s new electronic tracking system for hazardous waste shipments, convincing some not to participate a month ahead of the system’s launch.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for reporting the status of hazardous waste, from creation and treatment to storage and disposal, lead to 3 million to 5 million paper manifests each year.

The agency is launching an electronic system called e-Manifest on June 30 to track those records, but the process has created questions for companies, each dealing with slightly different situations.

“There is a ton of confusion and trepidation about how this is all going to work,” Christopher Bryant, senior regulatory consultant for Bergeson & Campbell PC in Washington, told Bloomberg Environment.

Future manifest system users have peppered the agency with emails for months, asking how to comply, who needs to comply, where the requirements will apply, and how much it will cost.

The EPA hopes electronic manifests will create more effective compliance monitoring, timely notifications of hazardous waste shipments, and one-stop shopping for the agency and states to find the manifest data they need.

“As with the launch of anything new on the level of this magnitude, we know a complete transition to electronic manifests will take time,” the agency told Bloomberg Environment.

The system is largely an effort to modernize hazardous waste tracking documents, Bryant said, and reduce the costs associated with paper documents.

The agency will accept both electronic manifests and paper manifests as options for companies to comply with federal waste tracking requirements. The EPA expects the electronic manifests to become the predominant means of hazardous waste tracking.

Paper Preferred

Manifest users won’t be required to use the electronic system. Some companies say the new system isn’t necessarily better, and are opting to stick with paper manifests.

“We’re just going to continue doing everything the same way we’ve been doing it for the last 30 years,” Ron Harvey, owner of Walterboro, S.C.-based waste management company Echelon Environmental, told Bloomberg Environment.

Harvey said he expects the “vast majority” of hazardous waste transportation documentation to remain on paper after the EPA launches the electronic manifest system. In addition, he said, any companies that only generate small amounts of hazardous waste probably aren’t up to date on the electronic system.

“It really isn’t going to change anything at the base of the system, which is the generators,” he said.

Some states, including Pennsylvania, are opting out of the system, Angel Barkley, compliance and safety specialist at Pittsburgh-based waste management consulting firm Max Environmental told Bloomberg Environment in an email.

Virginia doesn’t collect manifests or manifest data, and does not charge fees related to manifests.

“At this point, we really have had minimal involvement, other than to receive information from EPA about the system and how they envision it will work,” Leslie Romanchik, a hazardous waste manager at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, told Bloomberg Environment in an email.

New York will continue to require hazardous waste generators who use paper records to submit copies to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, but plans to reassess that requirement once the EPA’s system gets up and running.

“As with any new system, DEC expects refinements may be necessary once the system is launched,” the department told Bloomberg Environment in a statement. “However, DEC is committed to assisting EPA in making e-Manifest a success.”

In Minnesota, companies send their paper records to the state, where staff enter the records into an electronic system. Switching over to the federal e-Manifest system will save the state money, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesman Walker Smith told Bloomberg Environment.

“Our biggest concern, though, has been that there hasn’t been a lot of documentation produced to help businesses use the system,” Smith said.

The EPA has been working with the regulated community and other users to get their feedback, hold webinars, and test the system, according to an agency spokesperson. The agency is adapting the system as it receives feedback.

“The June 30th launch of e-Manifest will be a direct result of continuous testing and [incorporating] input from our users,” the agency said.

Driving Costs

Companies that transport hazardous waste will need to add their drivers to the electronic manifest system so that the drivers can sign off on shipments.

The transportation industry is already facing a shortage of qualified hazardous material truck drivers, Lynda Smith, safety and compliance manager at Environmental Transport Group, Inc. in Flanders, N.J., told Bloomberg Environment.

“Their primary role, which was once safely transporting their loads, now has become focused on the electronic requirements placed on their shoulders,” she said in an email.

The industry also is dealing with rising fuel costs, the high price of maintaining equipment, and high driver turnover, Smith and Harvey said.

The electronic manifest system will put another financial burden on trucking companies, Smith said, because the system will require them to get portable signature devices for their vehicles.

“Over-regulating and implementing heavy electronic burdens on the trucking business is critically hurting the industry. It will ultimately trickle down to all areas of commerce, and eventually consumers,” she said.

Paying the Bills

The EPA is charging fees for each manifest submitted, based on whether it’s paper or electronic, and how it’s submitted. The EPA estimates fees will be between $4 and $20 each, depending on the type of manifest. The fees will be used to offset the costs of developing and maintaining the program.

The fees that companies will have to pay when they file manifests will be “significant,” even if filers choose the least expensive options, Barkley said.

The agency previously anticipated releasing the final fee schedule by the end of May but now plans to release it before the June 30 launch. The fees the agency sets will be effective for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, according to an EPA spokesperson.

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