COLUMBIA, SC — The garbage industry’s push for a greater share of South Carolina’s trash market took a hit Tuesday with a survey showing that 88 percent of those questioned oppose importing waste from other places for burial in the Palmetto State.
Of the 800 people asked by University of South Carolina researchers, just 8 percent said private waste companies should be allowed to haul in garbage from other states for disposal in their landfills. Nearly 4 percent had no opinion, the survey found.
The S.C. Association of Counties, which commissioned the survey, said the results are a prime reason state lawmakers should stop a waste industry bill limiting county control of garbage. An estimated 100 county officials from across South Carolina packed a news conference in Columbia to show their opposition to the bill.
“The General Assembly … must decide whether to support large out-of-state waste corporations or the citizens of this state,” said Sumter County Councilman Charles T. Edens, president of the counties’ association. If the bill is approved, “large megadumps that accept dewatered human fecal matter from New York will become the norm in South Carolina.”
Waste industry officials say the bill would prevent county monopolies that require garbage to be buried in government landfills. Changing the law, they say, would open the trash market to more competition and better prices. Republic Services and Waste Management, two of the nation’s biggest garbage companies, are leading a well-financed lobbying campaign to promote the legislation.
But local governments and green groups say the bill would create private monopolies by making it harder for governments to operate their own landfills. Counties depend on landfill revenues to help fund the operations and pay for expansions. Without that income, private waste companies eventually could buy government landfills, import out-of-state garbage, raise rates on customers and increase environmental risks, opponents of the bill say.
In South Carolina, about half of the state’s landfills are run by governments, with the other half operated by private companies. About three-quarters of the waste goes to private landfills now, which are the largest in the state and which already cater to out-of-state garbage.
In addition to the survey results about importing waste here, the survey also said 76.4 percent of the people believe county councils should control where waste generated in a county is disposed of.
Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens, and Horry GOP Rep. Nelson Hardwick, who led the charge for the legislation, quickly discounted the county association’s survey results. Verdin called the USC survey and comments Tuesday a “red herring” that confuses the issue.
“No one wants the proliferation of out-of-state waste, whether that be nuclear waste ... or trash barges from New York and New Jersey -- but that’s not the point at all,” Verdin said. “This is nothing but misdirection.”
Verdin said the bill focuses on preventing ordinances like one passed in Horry County that require all county garbage to be disposed of at the county landfill -- not opening South Carolina to more out-of-state waste. The bill sailed through the House earlier this year and has since been approved in a committee chaired by Sen. Harvey Peeler, whose brother, Bob, is an executive with Waste Management. Sen. Peeler, R-Cherokee, has said he has not discussed the legislation with his brother.
Whether the bill passes the Senate this year is unknown. Opponents have placed objections on the bill that makes it harder to bring up for a vote. And Sen. John Courson, the Senate’s president pro tempore, said he personally opposes the legislation.
Environmentalist Shelley Robbins and state Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, also blasted the bill during the county news conference Tuesday. McGill said the bill is an attack on counties’ ability to rule themselves.
“Nothing is more important in the General Assembly this year” other than the budget bill, he said, noting that the legislation “will absolutely micromanage local governments all over this state.”