Missouri governor weakens hazardous waste rules, cuts regulation for ‘advanced recycling’

Legislation targeting the state’s authority to regulate hazardous waste was pushed behind the scenes by a mid-Missouri manufacturer

By: - July 1, 2022 2:10 pm

Environmental groups say advanced recycling itself emits considerable greenhouse gasses and creates fuels that are dirtier than existing gasoline while a paper funded by and using data from the industry claims exactly the opposite — that the resulting fuels have a reduced environmental impact (Getty Images).

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation Friday weakening the state’s hazardous waste regulations and opening the door for a controversial type of recycling backed by the plastic industry and decried by environmentalists. 

Parson, a Republican, signed legislation to bar the Missouri Department of Natural Resources from enacting hazardous waste rules that differ in any way from Environmental Protection Agency regulations. 

The bill also removes a permit requirement for chemical recycling facilities, often referred to as “advanced recycling.” 

Parson did not comment on either provision of the bill in his office’s news release. 

Conservative legislators, for several years, have proposed curtailing the state’s hazardous waste rules, arguing that a state like Missouri shouldn’t ask businesses to follow regulations that go any further than the federal government. 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, repeatedly brought up tourist caves in southwest Missouri that were struggling with trichloroethylene, or TCE, vapors that flowed from upstream. 

TCE can cause kidney and liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cardiac defects, leukemia, multiple myeloma, renal disease, Parkinson disease and scleroderma. 

Burlison said businesses in his district were frightened of the Department of Natural Resources. On Friday, he said he was very pleased the governor signed the legislation.

“I hope that it brings more transparency to the process and that there are fewer businesses that are surprised and shaken down by regulations that are more restrictive than the federal government,” Burlison said. 

Never mentioned in committee hearings was that one mid-Missouri business pushed for the hazardous waste provisions behind the scenes. That business was ORBCO, the manufacturing plant owned by the family business of Barry Orscheln, chair of the Missouri Conservation Commission and Parson’s conservationist of the year in November. 

Orscheln’s property on North Morley Street in Moberly. The company resisted calls from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to do certain testing for trichloroethylene at the site (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).

ORBCO fought for months with DNR over whether it needed to test around the manufacturing plant for TCE pollution that health officials believed could harm the plant’s workers. 

Its attorney argued DNR was expanding its authority by forcing ORBCO to do work recommended in a non-binding EPA guidance document.

A year later, the same complaint came up during discussion of Burlison’s bill.

“Guidance documents are not statute,” McCarty, the president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri, told the House Emerging Issues Committee last year. “They are not regulation. They are not vetted. They are not put out by elected officials. They’re put out by unelected bureaucrats.”

The legislation also removed a requirement that advanced recycling facilities secure a hazardous waste permit. Instead, Missouri will treat them as manufacturers.

Rep. Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon, who sponsored the legislation, said it would help promote Missouri and encourage the facilities to move into the state and create opportunities by eliminating “unnecessary” regulation.

“Well, whenever you eliminate these (regulations) if you get some of these companies that are doing this, you’re actually eliminating some polymers and plastics from landfills,” Knight said. 

But environmentalists warn advanced recycling is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

“It’s just the science isn’t quite there,” Bridget Sanderson, state director for Environment Missouri, said earlier this year. “And there’s of course a lot of greenhouse gas emissions…and toxics that are coming out of these facilities as well.”

Often, opponents say, advanced recycling facilities don’t produce new plastics. Instead, they convert processed plastic waste into fuel to be burned — though the American Chemistry Council said that was the first phase of the technology’s development. The industry is transitioning to plastic-to-plastic recycling, the group said in an interview earlier this year.

There is also little agreement regarding the level of greenhouse gas emissions or risk from toxic waste associated with the process. 

During a House committee discussion on the bill, a representative asked the Sierra Club’s lobbyist, Michael Berg, whether it was better for plastic waste to wind up in a landfill or be converted into fuel and burned. 

“Probably to end up in the landfill,” Berg said. 

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on energy, the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she previously covered City Hall for The Kansas City Star, as well as state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City.