Post-closure care includes ground water and gas monitoring, leachate collection and treatment, gas recovery and management, and final cover maintenance (Lee, at 35-39).
The financial assurance provisions provides a public policy to assure proper funding when a landfill is developed, so that routine maintenance and any necessary remediation work can continue for at least 30 years, even if the owner or operator is no longer in business or financially solvent at that time. Other issues to be incorporated into the financial assurance aspects of RCRA for MSW landfills include the length of time post-closure care must be provided, the magnitude of funding needed for future long-term care, appropriate financial assurance instruments, and mechanisms to ensure that funds will be available exclusively for post-closure care and remediation of contaminated ground water.
However, research indicates that there is a misconception that such stricter construction requirements, siting limitations, and monitoring requirements will eliminate the problem of polluting ground water (Lee, at 35-39). This is not addressed in the provisions, which postpone ground water pollution instead of preventing it. As a result, the landfill poses a threat to ground water quality for as long as wastes remain buried in the landfill.
Furthermore, the 30-year period for post-closure care mandated by the EPA takes into consideration only the initial time period over which the wastes in the lined landfill will represent a threat to ground water quality. Since the regulations refer to only a 30-year concept, landfill applicants typically prepare post-closure financial assurance plans presuming that the landfill will require no more than 30 years of post-closure care (Lee, at 35-39). Thus, research in this area indicate that the manner in which the regulations discourage development of programs to provide adequate funding for the long-term (Lee, at 35-39).
As a result, landfill owners, operators and the public must establish funding programs during the active life of the landfill to pay for perpetual care. The costs include expenditures for not only long-term maintenance, but also for arresting the spread of pollution that occurs, and for remediation of the ground water to the extent possible (Lee, at 35-39). This fund must be sufficient to cover plausible worst-case scenario contingencies, including the need to remove and treat the buried wastes in order to remove the source of ground water pollution when the pollution cannot be stemmed by other means (Lee, at 35-39).
Several public policy concerns have been raised as a result of the different approaches and predicted inability's of private waste management companies and public entities to meet post-closure care maintenance and contingencies. Both public agencies and private companies most likely will have difficulty keeping funds available for future needs of a closed landfill. In order to remain in business, private landfill companies must generate a net profit from the landfills they develop. However, research indicates that a net profit cannot be generated from a landfill if post-closure care consumes the profits from the landfill operation.
For example, in one case, a landfill company spent $60 million to purchase a gravel pit in southern California for the purpose of developing a 200-acre landfill (Lee, at 35-39). The company estimated it would generate a profit of $12 million/year during the approximately 20-year active life of the landfill (Lee, at 35-39). At that rate, the company would recover its initial investment in about five years; for the next 15 years the company would make a profit of about $80 million (Lee, at 35-39). The cost of closing the landfill and especially conducting post-closure care will, however, consume those profits (Lee, at 35-39). A private landfill company cannot accept the true post-closure care responsibilities and remain financially stable (Lee, at 35-39). This is a vivid representation that unless significant changes are made in the provisions for post-closure care funding, future generations will be have to bear the costs and responsibilities that are abrogated by private landfill companies.
Research indicates that the RCRA regulations do not go far enough, either in articulating the need for perpetual post-closure care for landfills, or requiring adequate financial assurance from private and public landfill owners and operators. Although the regulations of the RCRA are designed to mitigate potential risks to human health, reasonable anticipated future land uses and the environment, many risks still exist. Landfill uses must be streamlined and such strategies are needed as a result of the time, effort, and costs associated with contamination.
For example, the anticipated future land uses must be considered in collection, validation, and maintenance of these developing remedial action objectives. Since protocols and procedures can be costly, resource investigation and remediation work plans are be either intensive and time consuming. Future land uses and remedial alternatives associated with them can have significant impacts on risks to ecological resources. When non-residential land use assumptions are relied upon, some industrial action levels or media cleanup standards may not be protective for ecological receptors. As a result, at some sites, risks to ecological resources could result in cleanup levels that could be lower than would be the case for human receptors.
Furthermore, nonresidential land use assumptions could be based upon the fact that a facility will remain active in the long-term and continue to maintain the exposure controls that minimize risk to human receptors. In the case of such active facilities, the continued performance of the ecological risk assessment could be required after the remedy is implemented to substantiate that the remedy had the desired effect. The heavy costs RCRA imposes on organizations may be worth it if they provided some benefit to human health. But RCRA mandates that companies clean up their factory grounds not to levels protective of human health, but to background levels, at which the chemicals occur naturally in the surrounding environment.
Finally, policy-makers and the EPA must work together if proper guidelines for waste management and landfill use are to implemented and honored by all organizations. Within the next 30 years, the effects of the regulations under the RCRA will no doubt be clearer, and will determine the future policies of waste and landfill management.
Bovard, James. "Some Waste Cleanup Rules are a waste of Resources." The Wall Street
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Correll, J. "Landfill Closure in the '90s." Solid Waste & Power. March/April (1992).
Lee, G.F. And Jones-Lee, a. "Landfill Post-Closure Care: Can Owners Guarantee the Money Will Be There?" Solid Waste & Power. 7 (1993): 35-39.
Lee, G.F., and Jones, R.A. "A Closer Look at What's Needed for Reliable Monitoring of Unlined Landfills." Solid Waste & Power. May/June (1992).
Office of Environmental Policy and Assistance. "Effects of Future Land Use
Assumptions on Environmental Restoration Decision Making." Office of Environmental Policy and Assistance. 1998. RCRA/CERCLA Information Brief. 17