EPA’S E-CYCLING EFFORTS FALL SHORT …..

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EPA’S E-CYCLING EFFORTS FALL SHORT …..

 user 2005-12-22 at 9:43:00 am Views: 54
  • #13558

    Auditors say EPA e-cycling efforts fall short
    Federal
    efforts have raised the profile of a growing national problem:
    electronic waste. But the Environmental Protection Agency is not
    forcing federal agencies or industry to do enough to deal with it,
    according to government auditors.
    A congressional working group, a
    bill in the Senate and a Government Accountability Office report
    released yesterday each call for a national plan to address the
    problem. So far, the EPA has scoffed at requests to spearhead such a
    plan.
    In the United States, people dispose 3,000 tons of computers a
    day. Each computer contains cadmium and mercury, which if disposed of
    improperly can be harmful to people and the environment.
    The federal
    government disposes 10,000 computers a week, in addition to fax
    machines, printers, copiers, cell phones and handheld devices. Some of
    this electronics equipment ends up in landfills in the United States or
    in landfills overseas, where environmental standards are generally
    lower.
    Now, a congressional e-waste working group, headed by Rep.
    Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Mary Bono
    (R-Calif.) and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), has
    co-sponsored an electronics recycling resolution that would direct
    Congress to lead the nation by example
    Under the measure, Congress
    would coordinate a recycling program to reuse obsolete computers and
    electronics equipment, in cooperation with the Congressional Budget
    Office, the Architect of the Capitol and other legislative branch
    offices.
    Thompson, who introduced the motion last month, noted,
    “before we can enact a national plan, Congress needs its own plan to
    properly dispose of its own e-waste.”
    The one main challenge in
    dealing with a growing heap of systems and circuitry is money. “Who’s
    going to pay is really kind of the crux of the dialogue that we face in
    the e-waste working group, Alan Snyder, legislative assistant to Rep.
    Slaughter said. “We’re really at a crossroads at this point. Industry
    is split on who should pay. Retailers are split as well.”
    Recycling
    involves the cost of removing data from hard drives, transporting and
    inspecting equipment, and repackaging useful parts. Some federal
    agencies pay for e-cycling from their existing budgets through a
    variety of specialized contracting programs.
    The task force’s
    founding purpose was to agree on a federal approach, generate
    enthusiasm on Capitol Hill and pass legislation. So far, the working
    group has held two hearings with the House Committee on Energy and
    Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials.
    On
    May 24, the day the group was formed, the members co-sponsored a
    congressional staff briefing at which Ben Wu, the Commerce Department’s
    assistant secretary for technology policy, said he was planning to
    release a Technology Administration white paper with an e-waste
    roadmap. As of the past week, the Technology Administration had not
    issued the document.
    Meanwhile, the Senate is also in the early stages of trying to mandate e-cycling nationwide.
    Sens.
    Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) said the federal government
    should provide financial incentives for recycling. Last March, they
    introduced the Electronic Waste Recycling Promotion and Consumer
    Protection Act that would require federal executive agencies to
    remanufacture or recycle all display screens and system units that they
    buy. The bill would offer tax credits to consumers and companies that
    do the same.
    The bill would also direct the EPA to calculate the
    costs and benefits of creating a national e-waste recycling program. It
    was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
    The GAO released a
    report yesterday recommending the EPA draft legislation for a
    nationwide financing system to make e-cycling easier for consumers,
    companies and government. The study also states EPA should require
    federal agencies to buy “green” electronics, reduce the environmental
    impact of electronics products during their use and dispose of obsolete
    electronics in an environmentally safe way.
    “Consumers generally
    have to pay fees and drop off their used electronics at often
    inconvenient locations to have them recycled or refurbished for reuse,”
    according to GAO letter. The letter was addressed to several senators,
    including Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Environment and Public
    Works Committee Sen. Jim Jeffords (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate
    Subcommittee on Superfund and Waste Management John Thune (R-S.D.),
    Talent and Wyden.
    Local governments cannot fund curbside pickup for
    recycling used electronics because it is too expensive. Currently,
    federal law allows hazardous used electronics in municipal landfills.
    For
    its part, industry is divided between two potential solutions to the
    economic problem. One, an advanced recovery fee, involves placing an
    additional fee on a product at the point of sale. The other, extended
    producer responsibility, requires product manufacturers to assume
    financial and physical responsibility for taking back their products
    for recycling or reuse.
    Although manufacturers surveyed by the GAO
    had individual preferences on a financing mechanism, all said they
    wanted a single national system.
    Two different systems for e-cycling
    exist in California and Maine, suggesting that without a national
    approach, a patchwork of potentially conflicting state requirements is
    developing, GAO officials wrote. Piecemeal approaches, they added,
    might increase costs for manufacturers, retailers and recyclers.
    “A
    manufacturer in one state, for example, may have an advance recovery
    fee placed on its products; whereas in another state, the same
    manufacturer may have to take back its products and pay for recycling.
    Hewlett-Packard serves as one example,” the auditors’ report states.
    An HP official told GAO officials that conflicting state systems would require start-up costs of more than $2 million per state.
    During
    the past years, the EPA has spent $2 million on multiple voluntary
    programs to help overcome some of the factors preventing e-cycling.
    One
    program-the Federal Electronics Challenge-leverages U.S. government
    purchasing power to promote environmentally responsible management of
    used electronics throughout their life cycle.
    To date, however, only 61 of thousands of federal facilities participate in the FEC, GAO officials said in their report
    “A
    major reason for the limited federal participation in this and other
    EPA electronics recycling programs is that, unlike other successful
    federal procurement programs, participation is not required,” the
    auditors wrote.
    EPA officials disagreed with GAO’s recommendations
    that the agency develop a legislative proposal for financing e-cycling
    nationwide and that it require federal agencies to participate in
    e-cycling programs.
    Responding to a draft of the GAO report, Thomas
    Dunne, EPA acting assistant administrator of the Office of Solid Waste
    and Emergency Response, wrote, “EPA is not in the best position to
    choose between competing financing solutions, given that this decision
    is one that is fundamentally a business and economic issue, rather than
    an environmental issue.”
    Dunne said the EPA would gladly advise the
    congressional e-waste working group if the group took responsibility
    for drafting a national financing bill.
    Regarding EPA’s contention
    that it would be inappropriate for an environmental agency to develop a
    nationwide financing system, GAO officials said the EPA has done so
    before.
    The EPA played a central role in developing the Clean Water
    State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs.
    Those programs help communities meet their water infrastructure needs
    and are inexpensive to the federal government.
    Dunne also argued
    that GAO had understated federal participation in the FEC, considering
    the program was launched only a year ago. He wrote in the Oct. 14
    letter that 12 agencies that are responsible for more than 80 percent
    of federal information technology purchases have participated in the
    program to date.
    GAO officials reported that participation means
    they have set goals to improve recycling practices, not implemented the
    goals. “As a practical matter,” they wrote, “61 out of thousands of
    federal facilities participate in the program, and only five of these
    are meeting electronic product management criteria that the program’s
    steering committee has asked them to attain.