It will be a shamenot to mention harm the industryif the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed rulemaking ends up reclassifying scrap tires as a solid waste, rather than keeping them sanctioned as a supplemental non-hazardous fuel.
All this decision will do is force users of tire-derived fuel (TDF) in the U.S. to stop considering the product as a fuel source, as they have done for the past 30 years, potentially sending tens of millions of scrap tires into stockpiles and illegal dumps.
The impact of this decision, which the EPA must make by December, unless it seeks an extension, is immense. TDF users consume more than half of all the scrap tires processed in the U.S. or as many as 150 million tires a year.
If the EPA does go ahead and reclassify TDF as a solid waste, it would require industrial users of TDF, such as cement kilns and paper mills, to operate as commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators. That would require them to revamp or replace current combustion units at great expense.
The net result would in effect kill the market for TDF, forcing states and municipalities to find new ways of getting rid of expired tires. There simply are not enough secondary markets to account for the 300 million or so tires discarded in the U.S. each year. So the scrap piles will build. Again.
Making this issue even more serious is that scrap tires no longer can be put in landfills. So finding a home for as many as 150 million waste tires previously consumed as TDF will be difficult if not impossible.
The reality of this scenario is it could happen. The EPA is required to rewrite the regulations governing what is and what isn't a solid waste as a result of a ruling in 2007 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that determined the EPA should have used a more stringent section of the Clean Air Act in its legislation for the burning of alternative fuels at industrial facilities.
The EPA, as a result, is faced with making a decision that is not necessarily based on science or on concerns about emissions generated by burning these so-called alternative fuels,
Rather, it's apparently being based on what the EPA believes its statutory and legal limits are, explained Michael Blumenthal of the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
Waste oil, scrap tires, construction and demolition debris and bagasse (crushed sugar cane) are some of the materials the EPA's proposed reclassification could affect.
What the EPA must decide is whether it will continue to define scrap tires under Section 112 of the Clear Air Act or redefine them under section 129, which means tires would have to be combusted as if they were hazardous waste.
The EPA does have latitude in all this and can decide whether to redefine the use of all scrap tires as TDF or allow them to be used subject to some level of processing, such as removing most or all of the tires' steel belts.
The agency has a tough decision to make, but barring any scientific evidence that shows the burning of scrap tires to be detrimental to public health, we urge the EPA to keep the status quo.