A U.S. District Court judge has given the Environmental Protection Agency until Feb. 1 to produce long-delayed regulations for landfills used as dump sites for hazardous chemical wastes.
Judge Gerhard A. Gesell Friday rejected the EPA's request that it be given two more years to produce the regulations. Gesell noted that the EPA already had missed two court-ordered deadlines since December, 1979, and said it "now, incomprehensibly, seeks a further two-year extension on the most shallow showing." The regulations were mandated by the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and were supposed to be promulgated by April, 1978, 18 months after Congress passed the law.
EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch had said the regulations had been delayed because research conducted by the agency during the Carter administration was inadequate for the complexity of the regulations. The regulations were targeted for review in March by the Reagan administration.
Gesell noted that when Congress set an 18-month deadline for issuing the rules it did not mean that Congress expected the agency "to resolve every conceivable problem before issuing regulations." Moreover, Gesell said that in the five years since the act was passed, the EPA has had adequate time to consider comments and suggestions on the regulations.
"The agency may fulfill its mandate to issue regulations as well as satisfy its lingering technical and policy concerns by issuing regulations and later consider revision if the agency's understanding and expertise expand," Gesell wrote.
Gesell's decision came in a lawsuit brought by Illinois state officials, the Environmental Defense Fund, Citizens for a Better Environment and the National Solid Waste Management Association, a trade group representing waste disposal companies.
In a related decision, Gesell declined to order the EPA to start issuing permits for pits, ponds, lagoons and incinerators according to final regulations for those hazardous waste facilities that were promulgated last January while the landfill regulations were pending.
The EPA has moved to suspend some of those regulations and, in the meantime, is not issuing permits for those hazardous waste facilities.
Gesell noted in this case that the EPA had been told that the new regulations for those facilities were "technically and economically infeasible." The Environmental Defense Fund, which brought the issue before Gesell, said that the delay in issuing permits means that new, safer standards, which the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act had intended, are not being applied.
In a brief written opinion, Gesell said that while he had ordered the regulations to be promulgated, he did not intend to continually supervise the EPA's implementation of the regulations once the deadlines were met. The case was closed in his court, Gesell said, unless the environmentalists could show that the EPA's suspension of the regulations was a deliberate attempt to evade his original order.