Environment, Legislature

Senate passes leachate aerosolization bill; now heads to Gov. Cooper

Sen. Trudy Wade (Photo: NC General Assembly)

D uring her political career, Sen. Trudy Wade, a Guilford County Republican, has often heeded the beck and call of the solid waste industry. She has sponsored bills to relax protective buffers between landfills and wildlife refuges, to allow garbage trucks to be only “leak-resistant” rather than leak-proof, and to discontinue electronics recycling.

This afternoon, Wade again came to the defense of the garbage business, this time cheerleading on the Senate floor for House Bill 576. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the Allow Aerosolization of Leachate bill would allow waste companies and municipalities to spray leachate — essentially juice that has percolated from the garbage into tanks — over the surface of a landfill.

There are several problems with this bill, one being that DEQ is forced to allow the technology to be used as long as certain basic siting requirements are in place.

While DEQ supports the bill, there could be a number of strategic reasons for that. Facing a devastating 10 percent budget cut by the Senate, DEQ has to decide where to spend its political capital. Or perhaps the agency really does think it’s a good idea.

“Don’t you trust DEQ?” Wade asked a fellow senator, who was questioning the bill language requiring the agency’s cooperation.

Do the lawmakers? By giving DEQ such a directive, legislators — their occupations ranging from CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (Sen. Deanna Ballard), veterinarian (Wade), auctioneer (Tom McInnis) and the catch-all job of consultant (Andrew Brock and many others) — have wrestled science from the hands of state regulators into their own. And then they’ve passed on the scientific decision-making to the landfill companies — the same companies that contribute to many of their campaigns.

Another issue is that there has been no safety testing of this technology. Ostensibly, the toxic contaminants would fall to the ground, leaving innocuous mist to drift — onto homes, schools, parks — miles away. But peer-reviewed studies have shown that size of the contaminant particle, wind, humidity, topography — all these factors can influence how far the mist can go.

Wade insisted the technology is safe; although like Dixon, she could produce no data or studies supporting that assertion. Nor could DEQ at an earlier committee hearing. And Wade falsely stated that the system had been tested in North Carolina. DEQ has issued four permits for leachate aerosolization — again at the agency’s discretion — and is requiring Republic, the holder of three of those permits, to monitor for contaminants.

That process is not as rigorous as most environmental advocates would like, but at least a landscaper isn’t the decider.

What Wade omitted from her defense of the bill is that the leachate system’s inventor, Kelly Houston, contributed $5,000 to her campaign during the last session. The timing of that contribution coincided with Wade as a conference committee co-chair, as she tried to hash out a larger environmental bill, which included, yes, leachate aerosolization.

Several Democratic senators — Angela Bryant, Jay Chaudhuri, Ben Clark and Mike Woodard, among others, vehemently opposed the bill. Clark unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to require landfill owners to test the aerosol for contaminants and to determine the “fate” of the spray as it travels.

Chaudhuri also attempted — again, unsuccessfully — to allow DEQ to consider approving the systems, but not requiring the agency to do so.

The bill passed along party lines. It now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper.

 

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