Waste corporations win victory at SC State House

sfretwell@thestate.comFebruary 13, 2013 

— National garbage corporations won a victory Wednesday against county waste management laws that they claim are preventing their ability to compete for the lucrative trash market in parts of South Carolina.

Seventy-five to 80 percent of the household garbage in the state already goes to private landfills, but critics said a bill approved in a Senate subcommittee would allow the industry an even greater share of the market.

The push by waste corporations will wreck county trash operations, jeopardize counties’ ability to pay off loans for landfills, and possibly lead to more mega landfills in South Carolina, local government officials and environmentalists said Wednesday. Those affected include Richland, Horry and Aiken counties, legislators were told.

“The bill most definitely affects all 46 counties,” Wes Covington, a lawyer with the S.C. Association of Counties, said during the Medical Affairs subcommittee hearing.

Covington said big waste corporations are pushing similar bills in other states, and last year won a victory in California. In South Carolina, the bill bars counties from requiring that all garbage generated in a local area be dumped at a local landfill.

“This is a national issue that Waste Management and Republic Services have spent a vast amount of money on,” Covington said.

Representatives for Waste Management and Republic attended Wednesday’s legislative hearing but did not speak. A waste industry trade association representative urged senators to approve the bill. County laws that require garbage to be disposed of at local landfills hurt consumers, said Phillip McAbee, a representative of the National Solid Waste Management Association.

“Counties could establish government-owned monopolies, which can then charge above-market rates without fear of customers going elsewhere,” he said during the hearing.

County officials and environmentalists dispute that, saying some counties long have had their own landfills. But a bill restricting county control over the flow of waste sailed through the House last month. It was approved, with amendments, Wednesday by the Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee. The issue emerged last year as a result of a dispute in the Myrtle Beach area. Horry County’s garbage ordinance requires all waste generated in the county to be disposed of at its landfill in Conway, a way that local officials say helps fund operations of the disposal site. The county law also prevents any waste from being brought in from other states.

But Horry County’s 2009 law blocked Marion County businessman William Clyburn from continuing to rely on waste from Horry County for his construction and demolition disposal site, which he says cut his business by 70 percent.

The bill’s impact would reach to counties such as Richland and Aiken, officials from those counties said. The Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority, which serves nine counties in west central South Carolina, has some $50 million in outstanding debt that is dependent on money coming from its nine member counties.

“If passed, this legislation would cripple the authority and could cause it to default on $50 million in revenue bonds,” authority chairman David K. Summers said in a letter to lawmakers circulated at Wednesday’s hearing in Columbia.

Shelley Robbins, who tracks garbage disposal issues for the environmental group Upstate Forever, said that in trying to help Clyburn, the bill “is hitting the issue with a huge hammer, when a needle is what is needed.”

Waste issues are a major point of dispute in South Carolina, a state with a legacy of accepting the nation’s garbage. A key concern about the bill is that it could diminish Horry County landfill revenues and force the county to sell to a private company, which then could bring in out-of-state waste for a mega dump.

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