WASHINGTON — Democratic House members said Wednesday that the Reagan Administration is proposing rules that would skirt a 1984 law they insisted was intended as a total ban on disposal of untreated toxic wastes in leaking landfills.
Members of the energy and commerce subcommittee said they will ask a federal court to invalidate the regulations if the Environmental Protection Agency adopts them.
Rep. James Florio (D-N.J.), chairman of the panel, and Rep. Dennis Eckart (D-Ohio) said the proposal announced by the EPA on Jan. 14 ignores the intent of Congress when it enacted a general prohibition on land disposal of chemical wastes that have not been treated to render them harmless.
Florio said the only exception is when a toxics disposer can convince the EPA that untreated wastes will not leak from a landfill "for as long as the wastes remain hazardous."
Proposal Has 500-Foot Limit
He and Eckart challenged the EPA's proposal to allow untreated wastes to be deposited in landfills so long as leaks of hazardous materials pose no danger to human health and the environment within 500 feet of a landfill.
"The language of the law, I thought, was clear and unequivocal," Florio told J. Winston Porter, assistant EPA administrator for solid waste. "This appears to be a tortured effort to walk away from the law."
Florio said the EPA is attempting to "rewrite the land ban provisions, ripping large holes in what is supposed to be a blanket ban on land disposal."
Proposal Called Illegal
Eckart said the proposal is "convoluted and . . . illegal . . . . You've deliberately created a regulatory scheme that uses leaking landfills."
The approach was defended by Porter, who said the proposed rules are the "most significant" EPA will write to carry out terms of the 1984 toxics disposal law.
Porter said that the 500-foot proposal was developed in accordance with an EPA model that deliberately overestimated environmental dangers from leaks to the point that some segments of the disposal industry are complaining it is too stringent.
"Our approach realistically deals with the limited available national treatment capacity, since wastes that naturally meet protective levels would not require treatment," he testified.
"We think it's a good approach technically and a good interpretation of the law," said Porter, adding that the rules are only proposed and subject to change based on comments from lawmakers and the public.