New landfills can be placed closer to state parks, wildlife refuges and gamelands under a bill that passed the Senate Monday night in a 29-16 vote.
Senate Bill 328, which now goes to the state House, weakens the existing state law that governs landfills.
The bill also limits the reasons the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources can reject a landfill application. Three Republicans, including Sen. Neal Hunt of Raleigh, joined all Democrats in opposition to the bill.
The department would no longer be able to reject landfills that would result in “significant damage to ecological systems,” and would not be able to consider the cumulative impact of more than one landfill on wildlife preserves and recreation areas.
The bill’s proponents said changes are needed because a 2007 landfill law is so strict that no landfill application can comply with all the rules. The waste industry believes that landfill space is running out faster than the state estimates.
“I think we’re in somewhat of a rush if we’re going to be prepared,” said Sen. Trudy Wade, a Greensboro Republican.
The Senate rejected a proposed change that would keep in place the existing buffers around parks, wildlife refuges and gameland.
“If you put those back in, you pretty much kill the bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown of Jacksonville.
The 2007 law was a reaction to worries that private companies would build large, regional landfills in the eastern part of the state that would be filled with trash from outside North Carolina. Owners of privately owned landfills said the law was aimed at stopping landfills planned for Camden, Hyde and Columbus counties.
One landfill proposed at the time was near the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and the Chesapeake River in Virginia. Concerned that the landfill, which could take in 10,000 tons of a trash a day, would harm their main source of drinking water Chesapeake officials went to court.
The state law, pushed in large part by then-Sen. Marc Basnight, shut down that landfill effort because it prevented putting a landfill within five miles of a national wildlife refuge, within two miles of a state park and within one mile of gameland. It also increased the distance between new landfills and streams from 50 feet to 200 feet and prevented building a landfill within five miles of a national wildlife refuge, within two miles of a state park and within one mile of gameland.
Under the new Senate bill, the buffer between a landfill and a national or state park, National Wildlife Refuge or critical fishery would shrink to 1,500 feet. Landfills would be kept out of “critical habitat” for threatened or endangered species and historically or archaeologically sensitive sites.
The Virginian Pilot reported earlier this month that Chesapeake officials are worried that Waste Industries will revisit its efforts to build the landfill in Camden County if the restrictions are loosened.
An ecological services supervisor from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a letter last week that the buffer between landfills and wildlife refuges set out in the 2007 law were carefully established. The letter to N.C. DENR Secretary John E. Skvarla says the buffer recommendation was based on “the science regarding potential offsite landfill impacts, precedent in other states, and the professional judgment of contaminant specialists in our office with a combined 24 years of experience.”
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources supports the bill.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Greensboro Democrat, said new landfills may be an opportunity for business, but they end up near low-income, rural and minority communities.
The bill “is an attack on the environment in which our children and citizens must live,” she said.