South Carolina, Landfill for the Eastern Seaboard
By Bob Anderson
Yes, if things go the way some folks in the state legislature want them to go, our great state could become the garbage dump for anyone willing to pay the price to ship their trash to South Carolina.
To put this all in context, let me take you back to the 1970s when the environmentalists, driven by New York and New Jersey dumping their garbage in the Atlantic Ocean, made the disposal of solid waste a national issue. Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which mandated that waste management should be addressed at the state and local level. EPA regulations followed. States passed a number of laws, but as with many environmental laws and regulations, the new requirements were very costly for the states to implement.
Moving forward to the 1990s when the South Carolina General Assembly enacted SWPMA (South Carolina Solid Waste Policy and Management Act of 1991). The act mandated that the counties enter the solid waste business and be totally responsible for the disposal of all solid waste including, trash, garbage, and C & D (Construction and Demolition Material). As part of the mandate, the counties were given the latitude to dispose of the solid waste in whatever manner they chose as long as the method met federal and state regulations. Having total responsibility for Flow Control, the technical term for trash disposal, the county ordinances do not necessarily displace private landfills or haulers in their regulating the flow of all solid waste within their boundaries. If it made sense, the county could outsource either the landfills or hauling or both. There are counties in the state that are currently doing just that, but by current law it is their choice and it may make sense given their current circumstances. What home rule does do is first allow for leverage over the affairs of private waste haulers and landfills by the elected body which is closest to the people; and, second, it provides a mechanism to ensure sufficient waste flows to the county landfill to support the investment.
At present, several national waste disposal companies and some regional companies have managed to get a bill, H. 3290, on the floor of the Senate to amend SWPMA. The amendment is called “The Business Freedom to Choose Act.” To a conservative like me this sounds great at first glance. Who doesn't want the freedom to do business? But, the devil is in the details of this amendment. The amendment would void the county's right to decide how to manage solid waste and would open the door to private companies to construct their own land fills and accept garbage from whomever they wanted.
If we lose local control of waste management, two things can and will happen. I know this because there are already counties within the state that have elected to allow private landfills be constructed within their boundaries. First, but not foremost, if the counties lose local control and private landfills are allowed to compete, the county could lose a portion of the waste volume. That loss would equate to a drop in the economy of scale that is needed to keep the price per ton to process the waste down. We experienced a drop in tonnage coming to our landfill a few years ago when the economy crashed. At one point, we considered raising our tipping fees (price per ton we charge for some waste entering the landfill), household fees, and possibly millage related to waste management to correct the shortfall. Fortunately, the volume picked up before we had to take action.
The second, but most far-reaching impact of the amendment is that the private landfill owners would gain the right to choose with whom they wanted to do business in order to maximize their profit margin. I can guarantee that local county solid waste would not be the material of choice to process. Case in point; our tipping fees are currently $35 per ton for the most part. It is my understanding that there are states and municipalities within a large radius that would be willing to pay $150 per ton if they could ship their solid waste to South Carolina. If one considers the millions of tons of waste that are processed every year, and a difference of $115 per ton between local and out-of-state processing fees, with whom do you think the private landfill operator will contract? We are talking mega bucks and the national companies know it. In twenty or thirty years, they will have the goldmine, and we will have everyone else's trash and nowhere to deposit our own.
With all of this money at stake, our local delegation is under tremendous pressure to pass this amendment, but we still have the upper hand. The lobbyists may have the big bucks, but we have the power of the vote. Legislators who vote “yes” to this amendment will get some money for their support, but we can fire them in the next election. If you agree with me that H. 3290 should not see the light of day, it would benefit our delegates if you would contact each of them and let them know that you have their back on this issue.
Bob Anderson represents the Pawleys Island area on Georgetown County Council.
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