Mega-landfills could be headed for NC

NC Senate lawmakers are expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would relax restrictions on landfills in North Carolina. Critics say the measure opens the door to out-of-state trash.

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Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would relax restrictions on landfills in North Carolina.

The proposal, Senate Bill 328, is called the Solid Waste Management Reform Act of 2013. It rolls back many of the protections and buffers put into place in 2007.

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. 

Also, it would relax requirements that owners regularly inspect and clean systems that capture the liquid that comes out of their landfills, called leachate, 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. 

The bill would also loosen current laws requiring garbage trucks to be leak-proof, requiring only that they be leak-resistant.

Sponsor Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, says the changes are necessary to ensure that the state has sufficient landfill space available for the future.

"We need to address this problem now," Wade said. "We don’t need to wait till we’re out of landfill space." 

Current estimates of capacity vary. The industry says the state has 15 to 20 years of space left, while DENR says it's closer to 30.  

"We tend to not really treat our land-filling friends as something they provide that is infrastructure. They provide us a great service," Wade told the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday. "They don’t make the trash – we do. They provide a place to put the trash – part of our infrastructure." 

But other committee members, Republicans and Democrats, voiced concerns about the bill. 

"Leachate is collected, and it is monitored for a reason," said Sen Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg. "This legislation weakens how it is going to be handled."

Ford warned that the change in standards for garbage container trucks would allow liquid from garbage to "come out on the road or be deposited in our communities,"  a concern also expressed by Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake.

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said the bill "is compromising some very serious environmental standards."

"It opens up rural counties in this state for a dumping ground for trash from the Northeast," McKissick said. "We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we become an attractive dumping ground."  

The committee also heard testimony from Brian Plumlee with the city of Chesapeake, Va.  He said the bill's aim is to allow a mega-dump in Camden County, immediately bordering Chesapeake.  

Plumlee called it a "job prevention act for Camden County."  

"This landfill is designed for out-of-state garbage," he told the panel. "The landfill is a drinking water 'red code.' It is a major problem for Chesapeake."

Brooks Rainey Pearson with the Southern Environmental Law Center said the bill "tilts the playing field in favor of out-of-state waste" and predicted it would damage travel and tourism and discourage economic development in poorer counties.

But DENR Assistant Secretary Mitch Gillespie said many of those claims are untrue.

"We feel like our regulatory authority has not been diminished whatsoever in this bill," Gillespie told the panel. "We feel extremely comfortable with the way this bill is now."

The bill passed the committee on a voice vote.

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