Federal law governing the treatment, storage, handling, disposal, and overall management of solid and hazardous wastes.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 provided for a significant federal role in the management of hazardous waste. Adopted as a series of amendments to the Solid Waste Act of 1965, RCRA set up a separate Office of Solid Waste within the EPA. This office was charged with establishing a comprehensive regulatory program ranging from identifying which wastes are hazardous to establishing a manifest system for tracking wastes. A major consequence of RCRA was to hold generators responsible for the wastes they produced from "cradle to grave." Under the cradle-to-grave concept, a generator of hazardous waste could no longer avoid liability by contracting with a third party to dispose of the waste. Even if it could be shown that the waste was mishandled through the actions of a third party, the original generator would remain liable for improper disposal. This forced generators to be very careful in the selection of the disposal companies they utilize.
P.L. 94-580 (October 21, 1976), as amended, authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate solid and hazardous wastes. The Act defines solid and hazardous waste, authorizes EPA to set standards for facilities that generate or manage hazardous waste, and establishes a permit program for hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities. RCRA made such comprehensive amendments to the Solid Waste Disposal Act (P.L. 89-272) that it became the name of reference. To date, production agriculture has not fallen under RCRA regulations or is explicitly exempted (i.e., solid or dissolved materials in irrigation water return flows).