How RCRA Has Transformed America: A Photo Blog

By Liz Sundin

When I began working at EPA earlier this year, I’ll admit I knew little about the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Solid waste and hazardous waste were huge terms with very specific parameters that I had trouble wrapping my brain around. However, as my time in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery grew, I started to see how RCRA’s various programs permeate so many parts of my everyday life. We’ve ensured our country handles, disposes of and recycles waste properly. This includes making sure hazardous waste is safely handled and managed both here in America and when imported from or exported abroad. We’re also leading the collaborative effort to halve food loss and waste in the U.S. by 2030 and making sure communities have a voice in the permitting process of hazardous waste facilities.

Now I see RCRA everywhere I go. I see it when I walk by our local dry cleaner and realize that my neighborhood is safer because RCRA requires strict handling of waste chemicals. When I pass our community garden’s compost barrel and the recycling cans lined up outside every house on trash day, I think of the program’s focus on sustainably managing materials. My life is affected by RCRA every day, I just never knew it until now.

As we celebrate 40 years of RCRA this month, I want to take us on a walk down memory lane to remind everyone what our country looked like before RCRA. In the 1970s, EPA hired photographers to capture images of environmental challenges around our country; the series was called the Documerica Project. Below are some of the amazing photos from the Documerica Project which show snapshots of our country before the passage of RCRA.

America has always been a nation full of beauty and natural wonders worth protecting.

Utah – Canyonlands National Park, May 1972

Rangeley Lake in the Mountains of Western Maine, Seen from Route 4 June 1973

In the years leading up to the passage of RCRA, Americans began to realize the need for better standards for landfills and pollution to keep our environment safe and clean.

Solid Waste Is Dumped Into Trenches at This Sanitary Landfill April 1972

Litter on Gulf Coast Beach, May 1972

Landfill Operation Is Conducted by the City of New York on the Marshlands of Jamaica Bay. Pollution Hazards and Ecological Damage Have Called Out Strong Opposition May 1973

Dimensions of the Littering Problem Are Suggested by This Heap of Cold Drink Cans, Salvaged by Girl Scouts at Islamorada in the Central Florida Keys. (circa 1975)

Seagulls Scavenge at Croton Landfill Operation along the Hudson River August 1973

Dumping Garbage at the Croton Landfill Operation, August 1973

Open Garbage Dump on Highway 112, North of San Sebastian February 1973

The conditions in the images above motivated concerned citizens, forward thinkers, and business leaders to push for regulations and fight for the passage of RCRA.

Along Route 580, near San Francisco. October 1972

Dumping Prohibition Is Ignored on This Hunter’s Point Creek Adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Airport, May 1973

Cleaning Up the Roadside in Onsetm May 1973

Stacked Cars In City Junkyard Will Be Used For Scrap, August 1973

Young People Filling Bags with Litter, May 1972

Children in Fort Smith Are Learning That Protecting the Environment Will Take More Than Awareness, June 1972

On October 21, 1976, President Ford signed RCRA, ushering in a new era of stricter environmental protections in the handling, management and disposal of waste. From that day forward, we worked to protect human health and the environment.

This is the first part in a three part blog series. Be on the lookout for the next blog discussing what RCRA has achieved in the last 40 years.

For more information on RCRA, visit www.epa.gov/rcra

Follow our RCRA 40th Campaign on social media: #ProtectPreventPreserve

About the author: Liz Sundin is a Public Affairs Specialist in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Switch Flipped On at Largest Solar Farm on a Superfund Site

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

By Charlie Howland

I work on an EPA initiative called RE-Powering America’s Land, which encourages renewable energy development on contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites.  I was excited to learn that the switch was recently flipped at the 10 megawatt Maywood Solar Farm on 45 acres in Indianapolis and it began pumping electricity into the grid, becoming the nation’s largest solar farm on a Superfund site.  The developer estimates that the project will reduce CO2e emissions by 13,235 metric tons per year, which is equal to the amount of carbon produced for energy use in more than 1,800 residential homes or the carbon output of 2,757 passenger vehicles. But to some folks, especially long-time EPA attorneys like me, it’s the site’s original name – Reilly Tar and Chemical – that might ring a bell. A 1982 court decision about another Reilly Tar site was one of the first to interpret Superfund’s liability provisions. The court helped determine the party responsible for paying to cleanup contamination.

The Maywood solar farm and others, such as the DuPont Newport solar farm project in Delaware, on which I recently worked, stand as examples of our efforts to help renewable energy developers. At the Newport site, a 548 kilowatt, five-acre solar installation now generates approximately 729,000 kilowatt hours of power per year — enough electricity to power about 60 homes.

There is an increasing buzz about the environmental, civic, financial and grid benefits of siting renewable energy projects on environmentally impaired lands, be they Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or Brownfield sites. We recognize that such projects are often the best use for contaminated lands, while helping to preserve existing green open spaces. Today, we’re aware of over 100 renewable energy projects that have been developed on such sites, with over 700 MW of installed capacity. Thus far, the majority of these projects sell power back to the grid in wholesale electricity markets, and sell the accompanying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to utilities and interested institutions and other consumers. The remaining projects generally provide energy for onsite use. Systems range from utility-scale systems, like the 35 MW wind farm at the former Bethlehem steel mill on the shore of Lake Erie in Lackawanna, New York, to smaller scale projects that serve green remediation systems, like the 280-kilowatt Paulsboro Terminal Landfill in New Jersey.

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

In my RE-Powering work, I am often reminded of an experience I had while serving as general counsel for a renewable energy developer. The firm had learned that the township in which it had optioned a parcel of farmland for a solar project had amended its zoning ordinance, restricting solar projects such as ours to areas zoned industrial. My arguments to convince the town council to change their zoning back were unsuccessful. At the end of the evening, the mayor came to me and said, “You know, we really do like your project. But we’d rather see it on the old landfill we own, instead of on farmland. What do you think?”

This is the question that the Maywood Solar Farm helps answer for the Reilly Tar site; and it’s the same one we’re asking at other contaminated properties across the country.

About the Author: Since 1990, Charlie Howland has been a Senior Assistant Regional Counsel in Region III, specializing in cleanups under CERCLA and RCRA at private sites and federal facilities.  He serves on EPA’s RE-Powering America Rapid Response Team.  Outside of EPA he took a leave of absence in 2008 and 2009 to work for a renewable energy development firm, and he currently teaches energy law and policy at Villanova Law School.

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.