This post has been updated with new information at the bottom.
RALEIGH — Legislation that loosens landfill permitting rules moved forward on short notice Thursday as state Sen. Trudy Wade shepherded a vast rewrite of the rules through committee.
Wade, R-Guilford, pasted 18 pages worth of new regulations into Senate Bill 328, which had been a much shorter bill dealing with a single rule dealing with dump trucks.
She coordinated with landfill industry representatives on the overhaul, which includes changes they’ve requested for several years. But industry lobbyist Alexander “Sandy” Sands stressed to committee members Thursday that “this is Sen. Wade’s bill.”
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Environmental activists reacted with concern as the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources approved the bill after less than an hour’s discussion. Word of the eminent changes leaked out the day before, after Wade’s initial dump truck bill sat idle for more than two months and the rewrite went on behind the scenes.
The changed bill heads now to another Senate committee for more review.
Wade said her bill would undo overly-tight restrictions on landfills, which were put in place in 2007. Since then no new landfills have been permitted in North Carolina, making future space a concern, she said.
Sands told committee members that no private landfills have been permitted in 20 years. The changes would “get us proactive and not reactive, when we have trash pile up in everybody’s backyard,” Wade said.
Wade said she didn’t know of any proposed landfills in the Greensboro or Rockingham County areas that would be aided by the bill, though the legislation would change rules statewide.
She pushed unsuccessfully, to expand the White Street landfill as a Greensboro City Council member. Her cousin owns a trucking company that was up for, but did not get, a portion of the city’s waste hauling contract last year.
Some have voiced concerns that Wade will work in the state Senate to re-open the landfill, but she has denied that repeatedly, saying only the City Council can re-open that landfill.
Sands, a former state legislator who lives in Reidsville, said Thursday that he doesn’t see the bill effecting White Street.
“I have never heard that that was the intent,” he said.
Sands also said he doesn’t think the bill would open the door for a private landfill proposed in Rockingham County, which is opposed by a large contingent of residents. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, confirmed this through a staffer, saying that decision lies with Rockingham County Commissioners.
Commissioners have opposed that landfill. The county’s existing one has decades of life left, making a new one “redundant,” according to a report they commissioned last year.
More broadly, Sands said there’s “not a plan ... to rush a bunch of landfills” in North Carolina. He noted that county governments around the state would still have to sign off on new ones.
But the bill would shrink required buffers surrounding landfills and do away with a current state environmental assessment for new landfills. It also lengthens landfill permit lives to 30 years, from the current 5 and 10 years.
Mitch Gillespie, assistant secretary for the environment at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said his department isn’t comfortable with some aspects of the bill and expects them to change. But he said there’s “no doubt in my mind” those issues can be addressed, and the department eventually will support the bill.
Grady McCallie, policy director for the N.C. Conservation Network, said the bill “radically weakens” current standards. He said he first saw the rewritten bill at 5 a.m. Thursday, four hours before the committee reviewed it.
Senate staffers said the rewrite was finished about 8 or 9 p.m. Wednesday. Hard copies were still warm from the photocopier when they were passed out Thursday, shortly after the committee’s 9 a.m. start.
The committee moved the bill forward despite calls, from activists and some Democratic senators, to slow down.
Lobbyists for and against the bill were given one minute each to state their case. Then committee chairman Andrew Brock, R-Davie, pushed the committee to vote quickly, saying a House committee needed the meeting room.
No such meeting was scheduled, and the room sat vacant after Senators and lobbyists left.
Brock said later that he misunderstood a staff note telling him about a House committee meeting starting at 10 a.m., which he planned to attend.
“I’m really embarrassed,” he said.
MONDAY JUNE 10 UPDATE: Rob Lamme, a environmental lobbyist following this issue closely, emails today:
Over the weekend former DENR assistant secretary Robin Smith wrote a very good and very understandable summary of what the Senate's landfill bill does.
The industry points out that no landfills have been approved in NC since the 2007 legislation was approved, which is correct; however, during that time MANY existing landfills have expanded. In fact, NCDENR's solid waste division estimates the state's current landfill capacity at 30 years.
Look for the bill to hit Senate Finance some time next week.