Digging In Their Heels

With an already tough reputation for environmental law and a moratorium on landfill permits, state officials in North Carolina are recommending stricter landfill regulations that would augment the process of permitting and operating waste facilities in the state. Waste companies operating in the state claim that the existing regulations are adequate.

“The new recommendations will make the landfill permit process more delayed in the judicial aspect and almost double the cost of construction,” says Greg Peverall, a consultant with Solid Waste Management Services, who has dealt with private landfill siting and development for 26 years. “The net benefit of these recommendations would not be worth the additional delay and cost.”

Nevertheless, Dexter Matthews, director of divisional waste management for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which made the recommendations, says he expects a bill incorporating the recommendations to be introduced to the state legislature during the current session and that the general assembly will act quickly.

“There hasn't been a significant revision to our regulations since 1993,” Matthews says. “We surveyed 16 other states in order to come up with those recommendations and feel they are in line with what other states have done to protect the environment.”

The summary of that survey, which was filed in February, contains 19 different recommendations as well as a number of proposed permit fees for solid waste management facilities. There are currently 40 permitted landfills in North Carolina, six of which are privately owned.

Among the recommendations detailed, the department would like permit applicants to provide cost estimates for a number of items, including the performance of environmental studies and the design, construction and operation of a proposed landfill.

Additionally, DENR would require financial assurance to cover possible corrective action. According to the summary, the minimum amount of financial assurance for corrective action would be $3 million, which would be required for both new and existing facilities.

Peverall estimates that the recommended regulations would increase construction costs by $200,000 an acre. He also notes that no significant breaches, or any type of environmental pollution have been reported at landfills currently operating in North Carolina.

The summary also calls for an increase to the maximum civil penalty for violations and a means for DENR to recover costs of investigating a violation. Standards for safe railway or barge transport of waste, a required traffic study for larger facilities, and a landfill screening plan for banned materials also are included among the recommendations.

In August 2006, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley signed Senate Bill 353, which established the state's current moratorium on landfill construction. At the time the bill was introduced, DENR released a study showing that curbside recycling programs had declined for the fifth consecutive year while waste generation over that same period had increased from 1.23 tons per person per year to 1.27 tons per person per year.

The state's Environmental Review Commission said it would use the yearlong moratorium to study solid waste related issues, such as requirements for landfills in flood-prone areas, traffic and means of reducing the amount of waste landfilled in the state. The moratorium is set to expire on August 1, 2007.