A bill now zipping through the Gold Dome would allow landfills to damage the environment and stifle eco-industry jobs all for the sake of a few extra bucks, say critics.
Sponsored by state Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, House Bill 1059 would allow local governments to repeal a 14-year-old state ban on dumping yard waste e.g., the grass clippings and tree limbs you leave on the curb with your recycling in certain landfills. The only requirement is that the methane produced by decomposing trash be captured and used to make energy.
Sounds kinda green, right? It would be if that yard waste weren't already being put to good use helping the environment and hadn't sparked a boom in green industries since the ban took effect. Environmentalists say the legislation would be one giant leap backward for the state and a boondoggle for landfill companies.
At a lobbyist-filled Feb. 9 hearing on the bill, Jack Perko of Republic Services, a waste-management company whose facilities include a Moreland Avenue landfill that would benefit from the legislation, said the change would allow the company to capture more methane to generate and sell for electricity. Perko said one of Republic Services' facilities currently captures enough landfill gas to heat 13,000 homes. Repealing the ban would allow the firm to produce more methane where the practice would make business sense, he said.
But environmental sense? Maybe not. According to 2007 statistics from the state Department of Community Affairs, landfills potentially impacted by the bill could see disposal rates increase by as much as 1.5 million more tons, causing landfills to fill up more quickly. According to those same statistics, it'd also score landfill companies who accept yard waste nearly $30 million in additional "tipping fee" (aka dumping fee) revenue.
Mark Woodall of the Sierra Club's Georgia chapter says the repeal would undo the progress that's been made since the ban took effect; encourage the creation of more landfills; and result in more out-of-state companies sending their trash to the Peach State.
"This bill is a total and complete sell-out to the big, greedy garbage companies," Woodall told CL. "We are already in the bottom 10 percent of states in recycling. With this bill, we can join Alabama as the dumping ground of the world."
And studies examining exactly how much additional methane would be produced by adding yard waste to landfills are iffy at best.
There's also an economic angle to opponents' concerns.
Since the ban took effect in 1996, yard waste has been reused by farmers, developers and private businesses for everything from compost to landscaping materials.
Mark Risse, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, told lawmakers that while he supported capturing methane for bioenergy, he feared the legislation would contribute to dwindling supplies of locally produced compost.
Researchers (himself included) have explored a variety of uses for the materials, such as ground cover to reduce soil erosion and stormwater runoff. He suggested lawmakers commission a policy paper on the bill's potential impacts before the issue move further. (State Rep. Billy Maddox, R-Zebulon, told Risse that his testimony, which merely consisted of raised questions and potential impacts, sounded to him like a policy paper itself.)
Jimmy Bobo, co-owner of Canton-based Wood-Tech LLC, said his company's recently opened $25 million landscape material facility handles an estimated 1.5 million tons in wood and yard waste each year. And while demand for materials is high, he said, supply is low. His firm is short 2,000 tons per day of materials to serve certain markets.
It's not that he opposes capturing methane in landfills to make electricity, he said. He just doesn't think it makes sense in this instance. Instead of burying leaves and limbs in a landfill, Bobo told lawmakers, businesses such as his own could reuse them and pay local workers wages that would be pumped back into the economy.
For good measure, he gave lawmakers a copy of his company's payroll.
You're gonna take a large job-development engine and you're gonna narrow that focus, Bobo warned lawmakers. If you choose to broaden what you can do with [yard waste], I'd say do not let it be buried [in landfills]. Its value in gas is very small compared to the jobs its creating on the ground."
Last Thursday, however, the bill passed a House subcommittee 3-0. Its now headed to the Agriculture Committee.
(File photo by Joeff Davis)
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