Tarheel Looney Tunes

Let's suppose you live in a state that exports 10 pounds of trash for every pound it imports. Let's also suppose that at least a third of the existing landfills in your state will be full in less than eight years. This means, of course, that your reliance on out-of-state landfills makes you highly vulnerable if Congress ever restricts interstate waste shipments.

What would you do if you were an elected official in this state? Would you support the siting of additional disposal capacity or would you pander to the NIMBY crowd and insist that no new landfills be built for at least the next 12 months, while the state assesses its “options?”

If you picked the first choice, you understand the need to prepare for the future. If you picked the second one, you could be a member of the North Carolina legislature. As bizarre as it sounds, the state's legislature recently voted to impose a 12-month moratorium on even reviewing a permit application for a new landfill.

Hey, if these guys were on the Titanic, they would have insisted on a 12-month study of the impact of icebergs before jumping into a lifeboat.

The North Carolina permitting moratorium, which passed both houses overwhelmingly, was inspired by the attempts of several solid waste companies to site new disposal facilities in the Tarheel State. The host communities for the proposed facilities understood the economic benefits they would reap.

One county, for instance, would receive as much as $1.5 million a year in host fees. Not a bad deal for a county with a $10 million dollar budget.

Of course, the real problem with the new facilities was the fear that they were being built to handle “Yankee trash.” No, not residue from the New York City baseball team, but the real thing. The fetid, stinking garbage that only Northerners can make.

And yes, the new landfills probably would take out-of-state trash. The environmental protections required in Subtitle D landfills make them more expensive to develop and operate than the old dumps of the past.

As a result, these landfills need to be bigger so that they are economically sustainable. To achieve this goal, the landfills would need all the North Carolina garbage they could get along with waste from other states. What's wrong with that?

Politicians and environmentalists are worried that North Carolina will become a net importer of trash. I guess they prefer that their state export as much garbage as possible. Currently, North Carolina is one of the top 10 exporting states. Maybe the state's real goal is to crack the top five or to even become the number one exporter.

Of course, the moratorium passed. No one ever lost an election running against Yankee trash. As a result, action on permits will stagnate for at least a year. Permit writers will move on to other jobs.

Who knows, when the moratorium is finally lifted, the permit writers may be gone, and the real moratorium will end up lasting three or four years as the state plays catch up. And then, as more and more North Carolina garbage is exported, “Tarheel Trash” could become the new rallying cry in the garbage wars.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: cmiller@envasns.org.

The columnist is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.