Landfill Update

June 20, 2013:  Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee approved a revised version of Senate Bill 328 (the Solid Waste Management Reform Act of 2013). The new bill draft undoes some of the changes to existing solid waste laws proposed in earlier versions of the bill. The bill:

— Reinstates the requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for landfills.

— Adds a modified requirement for inspection and cleaning  of leachate lines  (requiring inspection every five-years and cleaning as needed in place of the current requirement for annual cleaning).

— Removes earlier bill language that would have allowed waste disposal in wetlands that are not  protected under federal law; the bill still eliminates the current  200 foot buffer between waste disposal areas and wetlands.

— Returns to existing limits on landfill size, removing language that would have increased the maximum landfill height from 250 to 300 feet.

Unfortunately, the new version of Senate Bill 328 provides even less protection for endangered species habitat and other sensitive areas than the previous bill draft.  The new version still repeals language in the solid waste laws that allows DENR to deny a landfill permit based on significant damage to:

“ecological systems, natural resources, cultural sites, recreation areas, or historic sites of more than local significance…[including] national or State parks or forests; wilderness areas; historic sites; recreation areas; segments of the natural and scenic rivers system; wildlife refuges, preserves, and management areas; areas that provide habitat for threatened or endangered species; primary nursery areas and critical fisheries habitat designated by the Marine Fisheries Commission; and Outstanding Resource Waters designated by the Environmental Management Commission.”

But the  bill also drops earlier Senate Bill 328 language that would have prevented landfills from being located in critical habitat for a threatened or endangered species or in a historically or archaeologically sensitive site.  The only protection for important natural resources appears in one provision that requires a 1500 foot setback between a landfill and  a national or State park, a designated Natural and Scenic River, a  National Wildlife Refuge, critical fisheries habitat or Outstanding Resource Waters.

Without any permitting standard that protects sensitive areas,  information from an  EIS that shows construction or operation of the landfill will significantly damage a  park, wildlife refuge, endangered species habitat, historic or archaeological site will just be interesting reading. The bill will leave DENR with little or no ability to actually use that information to deny a permit or to put conditions on the permit to protect conservation areas, public recreation areas, endangered species habitat and other sensitive resources.