2-year ban proposed for S.C. megadumps

Residents hold signs during a protest at the State House organized by Citizens For Marlboro County against a proposed landfill in Marlboro County.
Residents hold signs during a protest at the State House organized by Citizens For Marlboro County against a proposed landfill in Marlboro County. The State

Trying to stop the flow of garbage into South Carolina, senators introduced legislation Tuesday to ban new landfills for two years while the state works to restrict the expansion of huge trash dumps.

South Carolina already has far more than enough landfill space for its own garbage and each year is accepting more from other states. Much of the trash is going to construction landfills and to so-called “megadumps,” mountains of trash built in part from out-of-state refuse.

South Carolina’s 1991 solid waste law wasn’t intended to allow for an explosion of new landfills, but regulations overseen by the Department of Health and Environmental Control have permitted that to happen, The State newspaper reported in November.

Sens. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, and John Courson, R-Richland, support the ban and said it's time to reverse the trend. Other chief supporters include Sens. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, Joel Lourie, D-Richland and Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, who introduced the proposal Tuesday.

“For us to sell our birthright and to allow waste to come in our state like this is wrong-headed public policy,” said Courson, who in November called South Carolina the nation’s “pay toilet” for its easy disposal policies.

Joel Sawyer, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, said Sanford needs to study the legislation but is “receptive” to a moratorium. Sanford earlier this year proposed a statewide garbage fee to discourage out-of-state waste.

Tommy Lavender, an attorney who represents waste companies, said a two-year moratorium will hurt companies that already have invested in South Carolina.

“It’s wrong, just wrong,” Lavender said. “It’s wrong to treat a business like that, whether they’re in the landfill business or the grocery store business. What’s next? Are we going to have a moratorium on new grocery stores? Or no barbecue restaurants, because people are too fat?”

The moratorium proposed Tuesday would restrict new landfills, as well as those targeted for expansion. The ban would apply to municipal landfills as well as construction and demolition landfills and industrial landfills. The ban would take effect immediately after passage and would expire Dec. 31, 2010.

Under federal law, the state can’t ban out-of-state waste altogether. But it can limit the growth of landfills to discourage the influx. Critics say landfills are unsightly, smell bad and pollute groundwater.

While the moratorium is in place, DHEC would have to study the need for more landfills, the imposition of statewide fees for disposal and more aggressive recycling requirements. DHEC also must study how dumps affect minority and low-income populations and whether government enforcement actions have been applied evenly against landfills that break the rules.

Citizens who have been fighting landfills in their communities were delighted Tuesday with the proposed two-year moratorium.

More than 75 people rallied on the State House steps primarily to voice their frustration with mega-landfills and the growth of out-of-state waste. Some carried signs reading “Stop the Mega Dump” and “No cash for trash.”

Many took a bus from Marlboro County, site of what would be one of South Carolina’s largest landfills. Others traveled from Williamsburg and Cherokee counties, also the proposed sites of major dumps.

“I cannot believe that any legislator would vote for megadumps and this kind of atrocity in our state,” said former Bennettsville Mayor Lucy Parsons.

In the past 20 years, some of the nation’s biggest waste companies have set up shop in South Carolina and catered to out-of-state waste, The State newspaper reported. Those companies include Waste Management, a corporation with $13 billion in annual revenues and Allied Waste Industries, with $6 billion in revenues. MRR Southern, a Raleigh company owned by one of the region’s largest demolition companies, also has moved into South Carolina. Poor counties sometimes are willing to make deals with landfill companies because they see the prospect of additional revenues for their communities.

Today, the state has 17 municipal solid waste landfills and about 150 sites for construction and demolition debris. About 30 percent of the household garbage buried here is from other states. In 2007, the state produced more than 4 million tons of trash, but DHEC has granted some 10 million tons of capacity.

Records reviewed by The State show New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Virginia all use S.C. dumps.

“South Carolina should not be the dumping ground for New York, New Jersey or any other state,” said landfill opponent James Scott. “Our state government allowed this big mess to take place. It is not right.”

Reach Fretwell at (803) 771-8537. Staff Writer John Monk contributed to the story.