Down on the dumps: Keep your nuclear dirt to yourself, New Jersey
BY PHIL LEVENTIS
When I was first elected to the state Senate 32 years ago, South Carolina was the recipient of nuclear, infectious, hazardous and municipal waste from most of the nation and beyond. I inherited a commercial hazardous-waste dump in my district.
Of the millions of tons of hazardous waste buried at the Laidlaw site, more than 70 percent was from out of state. More than 90 percent of the infectious waste imported to Hampton County was from out of state, as was the nuclear waste dumped at Barnwell. Since then our beloved state also has received millions and millions of tons of municipal garbage from the Northeast; more than a million tons a year is shipped to Lee County’s mega-trash mountain that you can see from I-20 as you drive by.
It took 20 years to close the hazardous-waste dump, well over 10 years to close the infectious-waste incinerator and more than three decades to limit nuclear waste to South Carolina and two other compact member states.
Now New Jersey says South Carolina is well-suited for the 300 rail cars of contaminated dirt that it doesn’t want — and can’t get rid of in New Jersey. New Jersey accuses us of being NIMBYs: “Not In My Back Yard” people.
Everyone — our governor and citizens alike — should shout, WIMBY: “Why in My Back Yard?”
Why for decades has South Carolina’s environment been right for out-of-state waste? It’s not because our meteorological, geographical or geological environment is favorable.
The answers are clear. It’s that our political environment has been favorable … and may still be. It’s that private companies want to make huge profits by raping our natural resources. It’s that the Department of Health and Environmental Control has been told that South Carolina should be the most business-friendly state in the nation.
Last year, DHEC first said, “Yes,” New Jersey could send us its 15,000 tons of nuke dirt. That is the most liberal interpretation of the law imaginable. How in heaven’s name could anyone at DHEC consider bending regulations to allow nuclear waste in a municipal-waste landfill?
I credit Director Catherine Templeton and DHEC for admitting this mistake and now saying “no.” The reaction from New Jersey was for Sayreville Seaport Associates to pay a S.C. law firm to assert that it has a right to dump on South Carolina. In addition, it clearly and simply said we were the low-cost option.
This is not simply a problem with our laws. Although our laws leave much to be desired, governors have contributed immensely to the pro-waste culture that has allowed out-of-state waste companies to have their way with our state for decades: The law firm of a former governor represents major waste interests before S.C. regulators, opening doors in a way most law firms couldn’t. A sitting governor states that there is a crisis in nuclear-waste disposal requiring us to abandon years of work on a compact, resulting in more waste for years past the statutory cut-off. The list goes on. South Carolina’s interests and business’ interests are not always the same, and statements by governors carry heavy symbolic importance, signaling to the nation whether South Carolina will continue to be its pay toilet or not.
Our governor should say very clearly: “We will not take this waste, period. We will push to ensure we have capacity for South Carolina waste and no more.” She should make it clear that South Carolina will fight to the Supreme Court to keep this waste out because radioactive waste is incompatible with municipal waste and the Lee mega-dump is not licensed for it. She should reject this attempt to clean up New Jersey by soiling South Carolina. Our governor should do all this as a demonstration of leadership.
It’s simply time for Gov. Nikki Haley to instruct Mrs. Templeton that it will not be a “great day in South Carolina” until we say no to anyone and everyone who thinks they can dump here just because we are cheap.
Phil Leventis, a Democrat, represents Sumter and Lee counties in the S.C. Senate. His email is email@example.com.