New Law Prohibits Landfills Near Airports

President Bill Clinton signed into law on April 5 a bill prohibiting the construction or establishment of municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills within six miles of small airports.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines small airports as those serving general aviation aircraft with regularly scheduled flights for 60 passengers or less.

In the bill, a MSW landfill is defined as an area which receives household waste and is not a land application unit, surface impoundment, injection-well or waste pile. The bill further defines putrescible waste as solid waste which contains organic matter, which often is attractive to birds, and which is capable of being decomposed by microorganisms.

Congress found that collisions between small aircraft and birds have resulted in fatal accidents. Prohibiting landfills with substances that attract birds is crucial to aviation safety, the bill states.

"Even if the landfill is not located in the approach path of the airport's runway, it still poses a hazard because of the birds' ability to fly away from the landfill and into the path of oncoming planes," the bill states.

Landfills in Alaska are exempt because the state only has small airports; therefore, any new landfill development would have to be outlawed in Alaska if it were subject to the law.

Also exempt are landfills constructed or expanded on or before the date Clinton signed the bill. A landfill also could be excluded if the state aviation agency where the airport is located requests an exemption and an FAA administrator grants it. This would be unusual based on the FAA's history of opposing the building of landfills near airports.

Currently, landfills only must demonstrate that they will not create a wildlife hazard when located within five miles of an airport. Waste companies must notify nearby airports when a new landfill is built.

Because existing landfills are not affected by the prohibition, the immediate effects of the legislation on the industry will be minimal.