Council Receives Waste Flow Update

FAIRFIELD – With the clock ticking on a pair of controversial bills in the General Assembly designed to prevent counties from owning a monopoly on waste disposal (House bill H.3290 and its Senate companion, S.203), to which many S.C. counties, including Fairfield, are opposed, an attorney with the S.C. Association of Counties (SCAC) delivered an update on the legislation to County Council during their May 13 meeting.

“This bill went through the House like a hot knife through butter, with virtually no discussion,” Robert Croom told Council last week. “On the Senate side, they tend to slow things down a little bit and with any luck this will be slowed down for the rest of the year.”

Croom said the House version of the bill now sits on the Senate’s contested calendar, and unless some special procedural actions are taken, it is not likely to reach the floor for a vote before the session ends. But it could happen, he said, and if it passes, counties who have invested bond money into landfills will be left in the lurch. Unable to compete with private industry to dispose of waste, Croom said that taxpayers will ultimately have to pick up the tab to pay for those landfills. If not, he said, and counties default on those bonds, the bond market will no longer lend the public money to build landfills.

“We’ll end up with a lot of larger landfills,” he said.

Even worse, Croom said, was a one-word change in the bill, from “industrial” waste to “solid” waste.

“That one-word change in Section 2, it guts the decision DHEC (the Department of Health and Environmental Control) makes on permits,” Croom said. “Your county’s solid waste plan would no longer be able to address large chunks of that waste, and they would have nothing to base their permit decisions on.”

Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) asked Croom how the bill would affect the flow of out of state waste, something opponents of the bill have been saying for months would increase under the new legislation.

“If I wanted to come and build a landfill in your community, if I wanted to bring nuclear waste from New York or wherever and drop it in your community, we would have absolutely nothing to say about it?” Marcharia asked.

“Not if you don’t own the hole you don’t,” Croom said.

But supporters of the legislation, including local senator Creighton Coleman (D-17), say that is not true, and documents from DHEC appear to back that position up.

Coleman and other supporters have said that the only goal of these bills is to amend the state’s Solid Waste Management Act to prevent counties from dictating where private waste disposal companies dump their waste. In 2009, Horry County did just that, passing an ordinance mandating that waste picked up in Horry County must be dumped in the landfill owned and operated by Horry County, and paying whatever fees Horry County established. That ordinance, Coleman and others say, created a de facto monopoly, preventing a private company from disposing of waste at a cheaper facility across county lines. H.3290 and S. 203 address that and nothing more, they claim.

Last month, Coleman inquired of DHEC about any other possible ramifications of the bill, specifically when it comes to out of state waste.

“(t)his bill does not affect any legal requirements with regard to out-of-state waste,” DHEC wrote in a letter of response, dated April 24. “We have thoroughly reviewed the language of this bill and see no basis for reaching such a conclusion. Nor does the bill change the requirement of the Solid Waste Management Act that requires a waste facility be consistent with a county’s local solid waste management plan.”

The bill does, DHEC noted, address consistency with zoning and land use ordinances.

“In that case, H.3290 empowers the counties by allowing them to present a letter of consistency to DHEC in order to satisfy the zoning and land use consistency requirements of the Solid Waste Management Act,” DHEC wrote. “(H.3290) does not affect current environmental laws and regulations other than adding the requirement that solid waste processing facilities register, report volume and prove financial responsibility to the department.”

H.3290 is intended to work out an economic, rather than an environmental issue, DHEC said, adding, “We made this view clear to the interests on both sides of this issue.”

The Voice recently acquired a copy of an internal memo, generated by DHEC in 2010 following their analysis of the Horry County ordinance. That memo indicates a concern within DHEC about public landfill capacity and how that might change, for the worse, if all 46 counties adopted similar ordinances.

“If every one of the 46 counties is allowed to in effect ‘hoard’ its waste by prohibiting it from leaving the county, it would have a significant negative impact on the regional concept so strongly promoted in the (Solid Waste Management) Act,” the memo states.

The General Assembly previously limited the amount of allowable landfill space in the state through the Determination of Needs regulation, the memo notes, and Horry County’s ordinance runs counter to that.

“A single county flow control ordinance may not in itself reverse the direction the state has taken in managing solid waste,” the memo states, “but certainly a proliferation of similar county ordinances would.”

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