GCC Visits an MRF

Waste Management in Washington County

Our Statement in Support of Strengthening the Solid Waste Permitting Policy of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Resa Dimino
Commissioner’s Policy Office
NYS DEC
625 Broadway
Albany, NY

 

Re: Solid Waste Management Facility Permitting Policy

These comments are submitted on behalf of the Greenwich Citizens Committee, Inc. Our 20-year-old southern Washington County citizens’ organization strongly supports the DEC’s initiative to strengthen its solid waste facility permitting policy and make it more consistent with DEC’s other priorities.

Policy:

  1. 1. The requirement that permitting actions be consistent with Local Solid Waste Management Plans and that such plans must be in effect is a big step forward.

    However, we are not convinced that the framework set forth in this policy document sufficiently addresses the issues related to private solid waste facilities which take waste from a myriad of geographic sources, in many cases from both within and outside of New York state. Privately owned and/or operated landfills, whether for C & D or municipal solid waste, are a good example of this type of facility. We urge DEC to develop a policy and procedures that creates an alternate mechanism with at least the same level of checks and balances where the solid waste facility primarily accepts wastes from outside the local solid waste management planning unit.

  2. Treating increases in size and rate of use as major actions unless they are minor is a sensible approach that we can support.

  3. We urge DEC to go further and assume actual lead agency status for all solid waste management projects. All too often, the local government agency that takes that role in State Environmental Quality Reviews has a conflict of interest. Even where the local government entity does not own or operate the facility, it often employs or would employ its services and/or is or would be the recipient of a host community benefit package.

    DEC should also explicitly require that all SEQR for waste management projects include a comprehensive analysis of alternative waste management strategies. All elements of a Zero Waste approach should be thoroughly considered in this analysis.

  4. We support the requirement that solid waste management facilities collect data on methane generation.

  5. For all new, modified, and amended solid waste facility permits, rather than on a case-by-case basis, the DEC should impose the following special conditions:
    1. Disposal bans should be imposed across the board for leaf and yard debris, and for recyclables and household hazardous waste and electronic equipment – whether or not these items are source separated. (Stating the ban in the manner it is stated in the policy actually provides a disincentive to source separation.) These materials never belong in landfills or incinerators.
    2. Disposal bans on numerous materials which are either recyclable or contain toxics have been in effect in the state of Massachusetts. New York can and should adopt a similar policy.
    3. Significant performance targets for waste diversion -- such as 75% of all recyclables, 90% of yard waste, and 95 % of electronics -- should be established. However such targets are meaningless without (1) an effective comprehensive program in place to achieve them, (2) monitoring of the waste stream to quantify diversion rates and periodically characterize the waste stream.
    4. All landfill gas should be collected and recovered for energy.

We support a requirement that all solid waste management facility operators provide a significant subsidy for recycling/composting/reuse/waste reduction infrastructure, planning, education, outreach, and public participation.

We agree that the permit term for landfills and incinerators should be short. No term should be longer than five years. In addition, a major review of progress in terms of waste diversion at the facility and in the communities/local planning units serviced by the facility should be required prior to renewal of these permits.

In addition, DEC should impose a moratorium on the activation of all existing permits that have not been activated within five years of their award. The DEC needs to require that these permits undergo a thorough review in accordance with this permitting policy.

We know of at least two cases (Hartford landfill and Coeymans landfill) where a landfill permit was awarded 15 or 16 years ago and while the landfill has not yet been developed, the permit remains active. During that lengthy period of time, a myriad of factors and conditions have changed, including our understanding of environmental impacts and natural resource management and the potential and imperative of waste diversion. The DEC policy draft states in the background section that landfill expansion . . . “may be at odds with policy goals to increase recovery, protect natural resources, and optimize the use of landfill capacity for only non-recoverable materials”. This assertion is at least as pertinent to the two examples mentioned here.

Purpose and Background:

We unequivocally oppose incineration (misleadingly called “waste-to-energy”) and urge DEC to rethink its flawed hierarchy. Incinerators destroy far more embodied energy than they generate, require high BTU materials like fiber and plastics which should be recycled, and are dangerous sources of air pollution and generators of hazardous materials in the form of ash. In addition, the high capital costs of constructing (and even operating) an incinerator have often siphoned public funding away from waste reduction and recycling efforts. Washington and Warren Counties are a textbook example of this dynamic.

Procedure:

Integrating the review of Local Solid Waste Plan implementation in permit reviews is a tremendous step forward that we fully support. In our county, the solid waste plan has not been implemented and no progress report has been submitted in almost a decade. Moreover, the county passed a mandatory source separation law 16 years ago which local officials acknowledge it has never enforced.

We similarly support the other provisions noted in this section, including those under SEQR (see further comments on that subject above).

In conclusion, we thank DEC for proposing this policy overhaul for solid waste facility permitting. We encourage the agency to move forward boldly and decisively with a framework that favors responsible recycling, composting and other waste diversion activities in preference to the creation, expansion, and life extension of solid waste disposal facilities.

Sincerely,

Tracy Frisch, President
Greenwich Citizens Committee, Inc.
1293 McClay Road
Greenwich, NY 12834