July 15, 2021

March 2021 e-Manifest Meeting Summary and EPA Response

On March 2–4, 2021, EPA held a virtual three-day public meeting with the e-manifest advisory board seeking the board’s continuing advice on improving the e-manifest system. The meeting’s theme was “Looking Ahead: Setting e-Manifest Program Priorities and User Fees for FY2022 and FY2023,” and the minutes from that meeting are now available via Docket No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0571-0022.

What really jumped out from these minutes were the following board statements: “the ‘market/industry has spoken.’ Specifically, the industry has indicated: 1) that the current EPA-provided web portal direct data entry/e-manifest creation process does not meet their industry needs, and 2) that it will not be broadly adopted, regardless of additional improvements EPA may make. As a result, the board advised that the agency should not spend any further development on the web portal for electronic manifest creation.”

Despite these rather ominous remarks, the board advised EPA to consider pursuing 10 e-manifest program goals in FY2022/23 and provided comment on the agency’s proposed user fees for this period.

Recommended priorities for FY 2022/23

  1. Implement a continuing burden reduction initiative—Many of the burdens experienced by manifest participants since the e-manifest system’s 2018 launch have been reduced or eliminated. Now, the focus needs to shift to registering generators, facilitating information submittals from designated facilities, and addressing data errors.
  2. Broaden the concept of fully electronic manifested shipments—A fully electronic manifested shipment should include those managed via an industry waste management system that includes electronic signature capture on an industry-managed device. This transaction would be considered “manifest data plus electronic signature data” and would be uploaded to the e-manifest database by the TSD facility following acceptance. This would allow designated facilities to continue using their own manifest systems, while still being credited as fully using the e-manifest system.
  3. Streamline the quality assurance (QA) process—The agency could reduce operating costs by improving data processing and efficiently targeting QA activities. Prior to e-manifest, there was no federal manifest QA process—only a limited review of manifest data during inspections. Rather than providing QA for all submitted e-manifests, efforts to validate data could be targeted based on statistical sampling or error rates per submitter.
  4. Implement needed data quality improvement—An extremely high error rate in submitted data plagues the e-manifest system. As a result, data are often “unreliable and unusable for regulatory oversight, reporting, and public and environmental protection.” Improving data quality could be accomplished by differentiating “data entry errors” from “system data errors” and dedicating sufficient financial and time commitments to correcting these errors.
  5. Enhance the e-manifest system to increase generator registration—Reducing costs and burdens by adding features to the system can incentivize generator registration. Such features could include improved data access, complete elimination of the need to maintain paper manifest copies, and streamlined biennial reporting.
  6. Ensure appropriate program development expenditures—Expenditures should be targeted proportionally based on manifest submission type—primarily, the “data plus image upload” submittal. Appropriately justifying expenses as yielding meaningful cost-savings or burden reduction to industry is also important.
  7. Pursue regulatory change as necessary—Policy statements alone may be insufficient to promote system use. Therefore, the board recommended expediting the rulemaking process to implement beneficial changes more quickly.
  8. Hire an economic advisor—An advisor could evaluate the e-manifest budget, including indirect costs, and investigate operation and maintenance cost-savings opportunities.
  9. Integrate industry systems—Since industry users (primarily TSD facilities) will continue to use their internal manifest systems, EPA needs to create the ability for these internal systems to interface with the e-manifest system to upload or amend data and assign unique manifest numbers. The e-manifest system’s ability to import and export data from and to industry’s manifest systems will be critical to the e-manifest system’s success. If this degree of interface is not achieved, the e-manifest system will likely remain an after-the-fact data repository instead of a live, working system.
  10. Improve functionality and user enhancements—EPA should dedicate resources to support planned functionality additions related to biennial reporting, TSCA PCB waste reporting, and other miscellaneous hazardous waste reports.

Other priorities and user fees

The board suggested several other priorities for EPA to consider. These include maximizing data accuracy, enhancing generator outreach by possibly mandating registration, sufficiently funding e-manifest help desk operations, and simplifying the e-manifest billing process. Simplified billing could be achieved via a two-tiered system: 1) paper manifest image-only, and 2) fully electronic/data plus image.

Related to an adjusted billing system are the user fees themselves. While the board found the overall methodology and inputs used to develop the user fees were reasonable, various factors, such as state adoption of the hazardous waste pharmaceuticals rule or universal waste aerosol cans rule, could lead to a decrease in submitted manifests over the next two fiscal years. Conversely, the number of submitted manifests could increase once the system includes export manifests. While billed to the designated facility, user fees are passed on to generators. However, decreases in user fees may not lead to increased system adoption since the fees make up a minuscule portion of the generator’s overall waste disposal bill. Adding “ease of use” features could increase system usage and result in decreased user fees. Overall, the board recommended incentivizing the adoption of fully electronic/data plus image e-manifest participation by implementing a fee structure in which: 1) the FY2022/23 image upload and data file plus image upload fees remain equivalent to the FY2020/21 fees, and 2) the fully electronic fee be set as low as possible.

EPA’s response

EPA’s June 2021 response to the board’s recommendations is available via Docket No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0571-0024. For the most part, the agency agrees with, or at least acknowledges, the board’s suggestions. EPA used its response document to delineate its own e-manifest priorities: increasing e-manifest usage and improving the QA process. Increasing system usage is to be accomplished by extending the system to include other manifest-related reporting, such as the biennial report and PCB annual report. In addition, the soon-to-be-proposed third e-manifest rule will address other ways to improve generator participation while also addressing enhanced utility of the system for generators. The agency’s QA improvement activities include targeted outreach to facilities with manifests listing invalid generator ID numbers.

EPA also responded to the board’s ideas of simplifying the e-manifest billing process and reevaluating the funding of the e-manifest help desk. The agency believes the help desk is sufficiently funded and there is no need to revisit the current billing methodology. That said, EPA suggested it may be appropriate to reevaluate the billing methodology for the FY2024/25 billing cycle under the highly differentiated fee formula allowed under §§264/265.1312(b)(1).

 


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