Landfill changes OK'd in regulatory reform omnibus

Lawmakers have tentatively approved controversial proposals to loosen environmental rules for landfills and trash trucks after they were slipped into a conference report on regulatory reform.

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Laura Leslie

State lawmakers have tentatively approved controversial provisions that would loosen environmental safeguards for landfills and trash trucks.

The changes were slipped into a conference report on regulatory reform and passed the Senate apparently unnoticed. 

During the House debate on House Bill 74, Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, was detailing the final compromise version of the measure when she began reading a list of provisions that were part of Senate Bill 328, the mega-landfill bill approved by the Senate. The House Environment Committee had declined to consider that bill. 

The provisions tucked into the 68 pages of House Bill 74 would allow trash trucks to leak, allow landfills to be built at the edges of state gamelands and ease rules regarding how landfills must cover their trash and maintain systems that keep liquid coming from the landfill from leaching into nearby groundwater supplies. 

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, asked McElraft whether the provisions had, in fact, come from Senate Bill 328.

McElraft said she didn't know. She said she wasn't familiar with the landfill bill and that the provisions in question "were provided by the Senate" during the conference negotiations. She said House negotiators had agreed to the ones they thought the House would support.

House rules require a standing committee to hear any conference report that includes material that wasn't in either the original House or Senate versions of a bill. McGrady asked to have the bill referred to committee under the rule. Speaker Thom Tillis resisted at first, but after McGrady read the rule aloud, Tillis agreed to send the bill to the Rules Committee. 

Rules Chairman Rep. Tim Moore later moved the bill back to the floor.

McGrady said the landfill changes should have been considered by the House on its own merits.

"This bill has never been considered by the House," he argued. "Three people from our side decided to add this to the bill." 

"According to some of the speaker's staff, this is the 'good portion of the bill,'" said McGrady. "Oh, great. This is the 'good portion?' Can you imagine what the bad portion was like?"  

"The bill is going to pass," he said resignedly. "It's been greased. It's an awful process." 

A conference report cannot be amended, so if the House were to not approve the report, the two chambers would have to go back to the negotiating table – an unpopular outcome at the end of session and one unlikely to please the dozens of interest groups that stand to benefit from the other regulatory changes in the measure.

McElraft said the bill will not allow mega-landfills but will make it easier to build future landfills. 

"We have to be careful here. We do have trash in North Carolina," McElraft said. "We must be able to permit new landfills in our state."

Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, said allowing "leak-resistant" rather than "leak-proof" trash trucks "by no way shape or form lowers our standards" from current rules. He said it's meant to counter "improper and egregious enforcement" of leak laws by overzealous local officials. 

Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood, said the House was "hoodwinked" in negotiations.

"It's full of poison pills from the Senate and petty political paybacks," Queen said. "Coal ash, landfills and the loss of our Mountain Resource Commission."

But Republicans said the good parts of the bill outweighed the bad.

"All in all, this is not the process I would recommend for regulatory reform," said Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, "but we have what we have."

The House voted 76-36 to approve the bill. 

The Senate gave tentative approval to the conference report earlier Thursday. The addition of the landfill provisions to the bill was not mentioned in the Senate debate.

Both chambers must take a final vote on House Bill 74 Friday.

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