Environment

As Charah also discontinues leachate aerosolization, HB 576 is up for an override vote today

Leachate aerosolization can spray thousands of gallons of wastewater per minute The contaminated particles supposedly fall back onto the landfill, but environmental advocates and scientists are concerned they could drift downwind. (Screenshot from Kelly Houston’s leachate aerosolization website)

This post has been updated with comments from DEQ and a correction to the use for the coal ash at Brickhaven.

For months, environmental advocates, scientists and concerned citizens told lawmakers that House Bill 576, aka “garbage juice in a snowblower” legislation, was a bad idea.

Now, two companies that have tested the leachate aerosolization technology agree. Charah joins Republic Services in withdrawing from an aerosolization test program. And House Bill 576, vetoed by Gov. Cooper and scheduled for an override vote today, could be headed for the landfill.

Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican from Duplin County, the measure would require the NC Department of Environmental Quality to approve leachate aerosolization at lined landfills. The measure was clearly tailored for the system’s inventor, Kelly Houston of Cornelius, who was a major donor to Sen. Trudy Wade, another supporter of the bill. However, Houston provided no peer-reviewed scientific studies proving that spraying contaminated landfill leachate into the air was safe — the technology is based on that used in chemical warfare — for those living downwind or for waste management workers.

DEQ had approved permits, which included monitoring and other environmental requirements, for two trial programs: One at the Brickhaven Mine, managed by Charah, and the other at three Republic Services landfills. Republic withdrew from its trial because the technology was “not a viable alternative,” as NCPW reported earlier this week.

Then on Tuesday, Charah notified DEQ that it would not use the technology at the former Brickhaven mine, a lined landfill where coal ash is being reused as fill material.

“Charah does not plan to proceed with the field trial of the leachate evaporation system at Brickhaven at this time.  In the future, we may reconsider the use of this technology if it makes economic sense and does not impact neighbors and the environment,” wrote Norman Divers, director of Engineering, Environmental and Quality at Charah to Ed Mussler, permitting branch supervisor in the Division of Waste Management. “Charah, therefore requests DEQ withdraw any activity regarding the review and approval of the trial request as noted.”

Charah has not yet responded to additional questions from NCPW about the technology’s failure. In two proposals sent to DEQ, Charah referred to the first as “leachate aerosolization,” and the second as “leachate evaporation,” but the methods are essentially the same.

Although during committee hearings on the bill, DEQ said it supported the measure, that endorsement felt tepid. DEQ spokesperson Laura Leonard said the agency supports Governor Cooper’s veto statement, which reads in part: “Scientists, not the legislature, should decide whether a patented technology can safely dispose of contaminated liquids from landfills. With use of the word ‘shall,’ the legislature mandates a technology winner, limiting future advancements that may provide better protection.

Leonard told NCPW that no other companies have requested approval for leachate aerosolization or evaporation systems from the Division of Waste Management. Robeson County has submitted a request for aerosolization, which is under agency review. The Division of Air Quality has also received a request for use of an evaporation system, but not at a landfill.

Dixon told NCPW yesterday that he would have to tally the votes before deciding whether to pursue an override of the governor’s veto. A three-fifths majority is required in both chambers.

The House convenes today at 3 p.m.

Environment

Republic Services pulls the plug on leachate aerosolization test program

 

This is a developing story. There will be updates as more information becomes available.

Leachate aerosolization, also known as “garbage juice in a snowblower” was not effective during a test program at a Republic Services landfill, Drew Isenhour, area president of Republic Services in North Carolina, confirmed to NCPW today. He said that the trial had been conducted “a while ago,” adding that “we have no plans for its future use or application.”

The controversial technology, which would become legal for wider use under House Bill 576, pumps leachate from landfills and sprays it into the air. The theory is the heavier, contaminated particles will fall within the landfill footprint and the benign particles will drift away. However, there are no independent, peer-reviewed studies that support its safety.

Landfill companies are interested in cheaper alternatives to collecting the leachate in tanks and trucking it offsite.

House Bill 576 was sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican from Duplin County. It required DEQ to approve the technology. Sen. Trudy Wade, a Guilford County Republican, strongly supported the bill. Last year, she received a $5,000 campaign contribution from the inventor of the system, Kelly Houston of Cornelius.

Although both chambers passed the bill, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it on June 30. The measure is scheduled for a floor debate in the House on Thursday.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality had approved permits for a 90-day pilot program at three Republic-owned landfills and the Brickhaven mine. Duke Energy is disposing of coal ash at Brickhaven, near Moncure in Chatham County, where the materials are stored until it can be used in the manufacture of concrete. Charah, Inc. is managing the operation.

Cassie Gavin, director of government affairs at the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club said the failure of Republic’s test program should negate the legislation.  “There is no need to require DEQ to permit a technology that a key industry isn’t interested in using,” There’s no need for the bill.”

Charah has also proposed a field trial of an evaporation method, which is similar to aerosolization. However, DEQ has not yet approved a permit for that trial.

DEQ could not be reached immediately for comment.

On behalf of Republic, Isenhour gave a presentation to the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission about leachate aerosolization in February 2016. However, Isenhour told NCPW that the company did not advocate for HB 576.

Therese Vick, coal ash coordinator for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, questioned who is behind House Bill 576: “Republic Industries,  the owner of many NC commercial landfills, says the technology doesn’t work. What is behind the legislative and agency push on this unproven technology?”

Environment, Legislature

Complaint: Lawmakers could be sued over leachate bill because their election wasn’t legit

Leachate aerosolization can spray thousands of gallons of wastewater per minute. (Screenshot from Kelly Houston’s leachate aerosolization website)

If lawmakers override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the leachate aerosolization bill, they could open themselves to a lawsuit, according to court documents filed in the Covington redistricting case.

Attached to a legal brief is a declaration and a letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center. It states that since 28 seats in the legislature are the result of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, the General Assembly has as a whole, “assumed usurper status.” With the 28 seats now in question, SELC contends, the legislature “no longer has the authority to override gubernatorial vetoes.” And nor will it, the court documents read, “until constitutional districts are drawn and legal” and a General Assembly lawfully elected.

One legislator told NCPW that there appears to be enough votes in the Senate to trump Cooper’s veto. A third-fifths majority is required in each chamber to override a veto. In the Senate, that would equal 30 votes; in the House, it take 72.

When the bill was up for its original vote, it passed the Senate 29-14, with four Republicans and two Democrats being absent. The House passed the bill 75-45.

On July 21, Derb Carter Jr. of the SELC sent a letter to Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger. “If the usurper legislature does attempt to override the veto, it opens itself up to litigation,” the letter reads. The matter could go to court where the SELC could ask for a declaratory judgment that the leachate law is “unconstitutional and void.”

House Bill 576 would require state environmental officials to allow landfill owners to use untested technology to dispose of contaminated leachate. Essentially, landfill juice that is currently collected in tanks and hauled offsite would be sprayed from a large snowblower-like apparatus into the air. That raises public health and environmental concerns because it’s unclear what types of contaminants would fall onto the landfill itself and what would float downwind. Last year, the inventor of the technology, Kelly Houston, contributed $5,000 to the campaign of Sen. Trudy Wade, who has supported the bill twice in the Senate. Rep. Jimmy Dixon sponsored it in the House.

 

Declaration of Derb Carter SELC by LisaSorg on Scribd

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Hold your sprayers: Gov. Cooper puts the kibosh on leachate bill

Leachate won’t start spewing garbage juice for at least another month now that Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed House Bill 576. The measure would require state environmental officials to permit an untested technology that sprays leachate from landfills into the air. The theory is the larger, harmful contaminated particles will drop to the surface of the landfill, leaving smaller particles to float away. However, scientific studies on other types of waste sprays show that viruses, bacteria and other small contaminants can travel for miles, depending on the wind, topography and humidity.

“Scientists, not the legislature, should decide whether a patented technology can safely dispose of contaminated liquids from landfills,” Cooper wrote in his veto message. “With use of the word ‘shall,’ the legislature mandates a technology winner, limiting future advancements that may provide better protection.”

Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Duplin County, the bill was controversial from the get-go. Environmental advocates and many Democrats opposed the bill because of safety concerns. Dixon repeatedly said the technology was safe, but offered no pertinent data or proof.

The leachate spraying system was invented by Kelly Houston of Cornelius. Last year, he contributed $5,000 to the campaign of Trudy Wade when the bill language was being inserted into an omnibus measure. That provision failed in the waning days of the 2016 short session.

This year, Wade carried water for the bill on the Senate side, which passed it 29-14. The House also passed it 75-45. Lawmakers could vote on an override, which requires a three-fifths majority, when the first special session convenes Aug. 3.

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.