Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate on Thursday gave key approval to legislation that would roll back restrictions on landfills in North Carolina.
Senate Bill 328 passed its second reading 28-18. A final vote is expected next week before it heads to the House.
The measure would allow landfills 1,500 feet away from National Wildlife Refuges or state parks instead of the current buffer of 2 to 5 miles and would drastically limit the statutory reasons for which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources could refuse to issue a permit for one.
It also would relax requirements that owners regularly inspect and clean systems that capture leachate, the liquid that comes out of their landfills, and would repeal the requirement that operators have a fund of at least $2 million to pay for fines or corrective action in case of contamination.
Current laws requiring garbage trucks to be leak-proof also would be replaced with rules that they only be leak-resistant.
Sponsor Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, said no landfills have been sited in North Carolina in years, and existing landfills will run out of space in an average of 15 to 20 years.
"This is an attempt to look toward the future and make preparations for our children," Wade said.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, said the landfill restrictions the state adopted in 2007 were designed to keep North Carolina from being the dumping ground for other states.
"We do not want to truck our garbage from Manteo to Murphy, but we also don't want to take all of their garbage in," Kinnaird said. "This is a very big step backwards."
The landfills will inevitably end up in poor communities, she said, and the mountains of trash will be seen for miles in any dumps in the coastal plain.
Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, questioned whether adjacent counties would have any say if one county decides to approve a landfill near their borders.
The 2007 regulations are too restrictive, Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said, adding that North Carolina needs to adjust so that landfills can meet the state's future needs.
"Doing nothing, I don't think, is a solution to the problem," Brown said. "We have to do something to allow these landfills to be built in North Carolina."
Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said he fears the reduction of buffers will "destroy the things we cherish about this state." He questioned why the bill was being pushed now, when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources says the state has adequate landfill capacity.
"If I were freezing to death, I'd probably start burning my furniture, but I'm not going to do it tomorrow," Nesbitt said. "We're not to the point in the state where we've got to start destroying wildlife refuges, natural heritage areas and the rivers that flow through this state to build a landfill."
"We all want our trash picked up, but we don't want anyone to put it down," Wade responded.
Local communities would have the final say on whether landfills locate in their area and how big they would be, she said.
DENR supports the bill, contending that its regulators would be able ensure any landfills are operated safely.
Sen. Bob Cook, R-Beaufort, said he plans to seek an amendment to the bill before final passage to protect Camden County, which is seen as the target for a large landfill. Still, he said he supports the legislation.
"We have to get rid of our trash. We have to do something," Cook said.