The tension between local residents and the nearby landfills that accept out-of-state trash has flared up once again, this time in Alabama. In late February, Gov. Robert Bentley signed an executive order placing a temporary moratorium on the state’s permitting of new large landfills or large landfill expansions.
The moratorium applies to landfills that would, either after initial construction or the completion of an expansion, have a capacity of more than 1,500 tons per day or 2,000 cubic yards per day, or are more than 500 acres in size. Bentley’s executive order calls for the moratorium to remain in effect until the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (DEM) can “adopt and promulgate new rules, regulations and requirements” governing such landfills. The order asks the state’s Solid Waste Management Advisory Committee and the Alabama Department of Public Health to provide input to DEM.
In his executive order, Bentley writes, “[T]he rural areas of Alabama are prime targets for the location of landfills and other solid waste management facilities to collect and manage volumes of solid waste in excess of that generated by their locales and regions, including solid waste from out of state.” The governor goes on to assert that the state’s current regulatory and permitting process does not “adequately allow” for the analysis of how large landfills accepting out-of-state waste impact the surrounding environment.
The executive order was issued in the midst of controversy surrounding the proposed Conecuh Woods landfill near Repton, Ala., in Conecuh County. According to press reports, the landfill would be approximately 5,000 acres in size, and its owners have said it could accept waste from 48 states. The proposal has drawn fierce local opposition.
An Alabama environmental group was quick to praise Bentley’s executive order. “We have long believed that Alabama has become the nation’s dumping ground, and a thorough review of the state’s permitting process is needed to ensure Alabama remains ‘The Beautiful,’” said Adam Snyder, executive director of the Conservation Alabama Foundation, in a statement. “We applaud Governor Bentley for taking this important step in order to get our landfill problems under control in Alabama.”
The Environmental Industry Association (EIA), parent association of the National Solid Wastes Management Association and the Waste Equipment Technology Association, opposes landfill moratoriums and was predictably unenthusiastic about Bentley’s executive order. “Any moratorium on permitting is a way of saying that the state doesn’t have good faith in its own permitting system,” says Chaz Miller, state programs director for the EIA. “It’s kind of a crude way to inject politics into the whole permitting process.”
John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), says his organization’s general position on a landfill moratorium is “no ban without a plan.” Have Alabama officials looked at whether the state’s current landfill capacity is adequate to serve its citizens during the indefinite moratorium, Skinner asks. “I don’t know if they’ve done that analysis,” he says. “If they haven’t, they might be facing significant increased disposal costs.”
According to a report in the Brewton (Ala.) Standard newspaper, Conecuh County officials are seeking an opinion from the state Attorney General’s office to determine how they should proceed with the application for the 5,000-acre landfill near Repton.
Miller of the EIA says he knows of no other landfill moratoriums in effect at this time. However, the resentment that local residents feel about landfills in their communities accepting out-of-state waste has resulted in attempts by state officials to pass various degrees of moratoriums over the years. Two years ago, South Carolina legislators unsuccessfully attempted to pass a two-year ban on MSW landfills.