Despite the tendency of environmentalists to criticize the Reagan Environmental Protection Agency and, in retrospect, heap praise on the Carter EPA, they acknowledge that the Carter-era agency was the root of some of the problems they see. Take the continually vexing problem of solid waste diposal. EPA regulations developed during the Carter administration allow waste generators producing a small amount (up to 2,200 pounds) of hazardous waste to dispose of it in sanitary landfills or open dumps, which normally aren't governed by the same protective standards as hazardous waste landfills. The Office of Technology Assessment, an arm of Congress, estimates that small generators may account for up to 10 percent of the hazardous waste being produced in this country and warns that the problem could become as large as that of abandoned waste dump sites.

Another loophole from the Carter era is the exemption of hazardous waste burned to produce energy from coverage under the federal hazardous waste management system. Approximately 20 million tons of hazardous waste are burned under this loophole each year, according to the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council, which represents a handful of firms engaged in the treatment and destruction of hazardous waste. That figure may equal 10 times the volume of wastes incinerated in facilities covered by the federal standards, according to the association. The council plans to file a lawsuit to force EPA to eliminate the loophole.