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D.C. Circuit Amends Opinion on EPA's Definition of Solid Waste Rule

Prepared for the Katten Environmental Advisory Group
Advisory | March 16, 2018

On March 6, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the D.C. Circuit) issued a ruling amending its July 7, 2017 opinion on challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA or Agency) 2015 rule on the Definition of Solid Waste (DSW) (the 2015 Rule). See American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, No. 09-1038 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (API Opinion). The 2015 Rule revised a DSW Rule promulgated by EPA in 2008 (the 2008 Rule). See KEAG Bulletin No. 2014-98, dated December 17, 2014. Both industry and environmental groups challenged the 2015 Rule. See KEAG Bulletin No. 2017-12, dated July 13, 2017. In the D.C. Circuit's 2017 opinion, the court upheld some aspects of the 2015 Rule and vacated others. Id.

Following the issuance of the court's 2017 opinion, petitions for rehearing were filed by the American Petroleum Institute, EPA, environmentalists, and other industry groups. API Opinion at 2. After reviewing the petitions, the court amended its decision in three ways: (1) it severed and affirmed EPA's removal of the spent catalyst bar from the vacated portions of the Verified Recycler Exclusion (VRE), (2) it vacated "Legitimacy" Factor 4 in its entirety, and (3) it clarified the regulatory regime that replaces the now-vacated Factor 4. Id.

With respect to spent petroleum catalysts, the court granted industry's request to exclude these catalysts from strict hazardous waste regulation for third‑party recyclers. In its original opinion, the court vacated the VRE from the 2015 Rule, and reinstated the Transfer-Based Exclusion (TBE) from the 2008 Rule. See KEAG Bulletin No. 2017-12, dated July 13, 2017. Spent catalysts were excluded from RCRA under the VRE, but not in the TBE. Id. In the court's reconsideration of whether spent catalysts should be granted an exclusion, the court cited EPA's various statements on catalysts and found that EPA's revised containment standard, which the court upheld despite eliminating other aspects of the VRE, is sufficient for spent catalysts to be included in the TBE. Id. at 6-8.

Legitimacy Factor 4 is one of the four criteria the EPA applies to determine if recycling of hazardous secondary materials is legitimate and not sham recycling. Factor 4 requires that a recycled product be comparable to or lower in contaminant levels than a legitimate product or intermediate, and if the former contains higher levels of contaminants, it requires additional procedures and tests (a.k.a., the "toxics along for the ride" test). Id. at 8; see also KEAG Bulletin No. 2017-12, dated July 13, 2017. In its original opinion, the court found those additional procedures to be unauthorized under RCRA and vacated Factor 4 "insofar as it applies to all hazardous secondary materials via § 261.2(g)," which is the section of the RCRA rules that defines sham recycling. See KEAG Bulletin No. 2017-12, dated July 13, 2017. Nevertheless, Factor 4 still applied to those specific exclusions in which it was specifically included. Id. In its amended opinion, the court vacated Legitimacy Factor 4 under all circumstances, even those written into specific exclusions. API Opinion at 9.

Finally, the court clarified the effect of its vacating Factor 4. Id. at 9-10. The net result is that (1) the 2015 version of Factor 4 is vacated (in its entirety); (2) the 2015 change making the legitimacy factors applicable to all exclusions remains; (3) Factor 3 remains mandatory per the 2015 changes; and (4) the 2008 version of Factor 4, which requires only that the factor be "considered," replaces the now-vacated 2015 version. Id. at 10.

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