S 328 Would be Two Steps in the Wrong Direction

By: Nicholas Garafola

If enacted, S 328: the Solid Waste Management Act of 2013 will repeal the practical regulations set forth in 2007. That was when the legislature took a good look at our waste management rules, and put together a set of safeguards aimed at protecting North Carolina’s communities.  The 2007 legislation introduced careful environmental and procedural oversight that updated 1992 policies in the interest of protecting North Carolina’s citizens and vital natural resources.  Senate Bill 328 could repeal the sensible reforms, posing risks to the North Carolina public, natural places and ecosystems.  And the 2007 rules have already allowed the state’s existing landfills to expand capacity to accommodate waste generated in North Carolina.

Grasping the threat of S 328 requires an understanding of the milestone established in 2007.  In 2006, proposals for massive landfills in Brunswick, Hyde, and Camden led the General Assembly to consider the potential harm of allowing North Carolina to become a dumping ground for waste generated in other states.  Using the results of the study conducted during a 2006-07 moratorium on permits for new landfills, the General Assembly adopted common sense safeguards.  North Carolina then benefitted from a logical set of regulations for the North Carolina waste industry.  Because of declining consumption and better management practices, no new landfills have been constructed between 2007 and 2013.

The 2007 rules allow the for local government to implement best practices for waste disposal, collaborate with state agencies, establish classification standards for types of facilities and develop a permit system to manage solid waste facilities of one-half acre or more.  It also allows for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to deny landfill permit applications based on threats of significant damage to water quality and ecological systems.  Furthermore, the 2007 protections established requirements for buffer zones between landfills and ecologically sensitive or significant areas.  Under the 2007 rules, new landfills must be located a minimum of five miles from a National Wildlife Refuge, two miles from a state park, and one mile from state gamelands. S 328 would reduce these required buffers to 1500 feet.

Current protections allow DENR to deny permits on the grounds of environmental threats due to multiple years of flooding and drought conditions, dependence on groundwater for drinking water and farming as well as groundwater scarcity and contamination.  The current law even addresses existing threats from older, unlined landfills by allocating tax revenues from a waste disposal tax and promotes best practices, such as recycling programs, upkeep of landfill leachate collection systems, and establishing closure and vegetative cover requirements for landfills more than 100 feet high.

One potential concern associated with regulating the solid waste disposal industry is that the state needs additional landfills to accommodate current and future waste.  Thanks to North Carolinians, the numbers tell a different story.  Between 2007 and 2013, landfill capacity in North Carolina increased by roughly 30 percent, primarily in the form of landfill expansion.  At the same time, recycling contributed to the lowest amount of waste disposal since 1991.  Because of the actions of mindful citizens, North Carolina does not need new and large landfills.  

Given that landfill capacity is increasing while the amount of solid waste is decreasing, it is clear that North Carolina does not require more and larger landfills to accommodate waste generated in North Carolina.  Instead, commercial waste haulers are focused on making North Carolina a dumping ground for waste generated elsewhere.  S328 would remove regulations that manage waste safely--and open up North Carolina as a commercial dumping ground without proper safeguards for state residents.  

Accommodating outside waste in exchange for revenue can result in unknown long term health and environmental costs.  The Solid Waste Management Act of 2007 established best practices that have protected North Carolinians from contaminated land, surface and groundwater.  The regulations even allowed landfill capacity in NC to grow while the rate of North Carolina waste disposal declined due in part to increases in recycling. North Carolina does not need new landfills at the expense of health and safety.  

There is no reason to repeal the 2007 protections, which preserve ecologically sensitive areas while ensuring that landfills can expand to accommodate in-state solid waste.  

Image Courtesy of David Parsons of the NREL.  http://images.nrel.gov/

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