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Senate panel approves stricter landfill regulations

South Carolina is poised to sharply restrict other states from burying their garbage here, a move many conservationists and citizens groups say is overdue.

New regulations will limit the amount of waste that companies can bury in South Carolina and make it hard to replace small garbage dumps with mega-landfills that cater to other states’ waste.

The new rules take effect June 26 if approved by a Senate committee Thursday. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control board voted for the tighter rules in a special meeting last week, and a Senate subcommittee signed off on them Wednesday.

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, said the rules will ease concerns about South Carolina’s role in the garbage business. The state Legislature is increasingly “trying to take care of the environment and not really excited about accepting other people’s waste,” said Fair, the subcommittee’s chairman.

Existing regulations overseen by DHEC allow far more capacity to bury waste in South Carolina than state residents generate, The State newspaper reported last year. That has contributed to a rise in out-of-state garbage flowing to South Carolina for disposal at giant landfills, such as one in Lee County that brings train loads of refuse from up and down the East Coast.

South Carolina residents produce about 5 million tons of garbage a year, but existing rules could allow landfill companies the capacity to bury up to 42 million tons annually.

The new regulations will reduce the state’s capacity to bury waste to less than 11 million tons a year.

By law, South Carolina can’t ban other states from sending garbage here, but a sharp reduction in the amount that can be buried should chill future interest in the state, lawmakers say.

“We’re taking away all that excess capacity that is a marketable commodity,” DHEC lobbyist Mike Rowe said.

The rules, however, would not prevent construction of a huge landfill in Marlboro County. DHEC has already given an initial approval for that disposal site.

Despite their support for the rules, conservationists fear the waste industry will sue to block the tighter regulations. If that happens, a court could suspend the new rules while the arguments rage, conservationists say. The legislature is considering a two-year moratorium on new mega-landfills, but the ban would expire as soon as the new rules take effect - meaning South Carolina could wind up with the old, looser regulations indefinitely, environmentalists say.

“We are very concerned that they will be open to challenge,” said Heather Spires, a lobbyist with the S.C. Coastal Conservation League.