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How Can the Public Participate in the Hazardous Waste Permitting Process?

The public plays an important role in the permitting process for hazardous waste facilities. EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment for the millions of people in all communities around these facilities. The public and other interested parties can contribute valuable information and ideas that improve the quality of both agency decisions and permit applications. EPA believes that public participation is a vital component of the permitting process.

Accordingly, EPA has written regulations that create opportunities for the public to learn about the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) activities and give input during the permitting process. There regulations are found in title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 124 and 270. Note that that there may also be more stringent state requirements in addition to the federal requirements.

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Avenues for Public Participation

The pre-application meeting, public comment and response periods, and public hearings are all instances where citizens can engage companies and regulators in a dialogue. Furthermore, EPA encourages permitting agencies, permit holders or applicants, and other interested parties to provide additional public participation activities where they will be helpful.

EPA also realizes that some of the most important public participation activities happen outside the formal permitting process. Citizens can contact environmental, public interest, and civic and community groups that have an interest in the facility and become involved in their activities. The permit holder or applicant may also create informal opportunities for public input and dialogue.

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What to Keep in Mind

The permitting process gives citizens a number of opportunities to express their ideas and concerns:

  • Know whom to call at the permitting agency. Early in the process, call the agency to determine the contact for the project. This person's name also should be on fact sheets and other printed materials.
  • Ask to have your name put on the facility mailing list for notices, fact sheets, and other documents distributed by the agency.
  • Do your own research by talking to local officials, contacting research or industry organizations, reading permitting agency materials and interacting with interested groups in the community.
  • Submit written comments that are clear, concise and well documented. Remember that, by law, permitting agencies must consider all significant written comments submitted during a formal comment period.
  • Participate in public hearings and other meetings. Provide testimony that supports your position. Remember that a public hearing is not required unless a citizen specifically requests one in writing.
  • If any material needs further explanation, or if you need to clear up some details about the facility or the permitting process, request an informational meeting with the appropriate official. You can also call the facility to meet with the staff or to request a tour or other information.
  • Follow the process closely. Watch for permitting agency decisions and review the agency's responses to public comments. Remember that citizens may have an opportunity to appeal agency decisions.
  • Remember that your interest and input are important to the permitting agency.

The permitting process for a hazardous waste management facility requires a significant amount of time and effort. Each participant plays a distinct and essential role. Permit applicants must carefully consider the RCRA regulations when developing and submitting their applications and planning public involvement activities.

The permitting agency must review the permit application to ensure that it is complete, adequate, and protective of public health and the environment. The agency must also coordinate this review to ensure community involvement. The public should become familiar with the permitting process and participate in it so that community concerns are heard and considered. This coordination of efforts will help to ensure that the environment and citizens of the United States are protected by proper management of hazardous wastes.

For more information, see the resources on public participation and the hazardous waste permitting process

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