It isn't fair to South Carolina citizens to have their choices limited, but that's what a large corporate out-of-state waste industry bill that's flying through the Legislature does. These corporations state that a county using its landfill for its own citizens' waste is unfair, but I say if the citizens want another option, our democratic electoral process will reflect that. We need to understand that it is this bill that limits choices, including citizens' ability to reject out-of-state waste in their backyards.
The bill voids local solid waste ordinances that control where waste is disposed of even though the ordinances are overwhelmingly supported by citizens. A recent statewide survey of South Carolina voters shows that 76.4 percent support county regulation and control of where solid waste is disposed.
The direction of solid waste by local governments is also necessary to pay back current debt on solid waste facilities or to finance new facilities like those that can continue increasing recycling and reducing waste streams into landfills.
When public landfills and facilities have more difficulty being financed, the industry will become monopolized by large out-of-state waste corporations. State law prohibits more than two municipal solid waste landfills within a 75 mile radius. Options for citizens are therefore already limited, and they become even more limited if public facilities are not financially viable.
Sometimes the private sector does a better job for citizens, but not always. Despite the private sector landfills' larger volumes and capacities, average disposal costs are cheapest at the public sector's landfills. Out-of-state waste corporations already have twice the permitted capacity than the publicly owned landfills, and the out-of-state corporations actually disposed of 75 percent of the waste in this state last year.
The average intake for out-of-state waste corporation landfills in 2011 was over 470,000 tons each, and the average intake for public landfills was only about 145,000 tons. Somehow, despite the higher volumes and resulting mountains of waste, costs to customers are higher with the large corporations.
In the past, almost every county owned a dump for its citizens' garbage. The Solid Waste Act was passed in 1991, and new environmental requirements for “sanitary landfills” made operations very costly. Counties were mandated by state law to plan for and provide solid waste and recycling services to the state's citizens. Providing these services has been costly, but counties have successfully complied with the state's recycling and landfilled waste reduction goals. These mandates and goals were not placed on the large out-of-state waste corporations; they were placed on the counties of this state.
House bill 3290 would also invalidate many franchise agreements because they're governed by the ordinances the bill would invalidate due to their direction of solid waste to particular facilities. This would take away the level playing field and competition among garbage haulers that has been so successful in meeting the requirements of the Solid Waste Act. Without franchises, local garbage hauling businesses cannot compete with the two dominant national companies in this state that either own or control various hauling companies while also controlling their own landfill costs.
There are only two reasons that some counties continue to own landfills in this state. The first reason is to lower costs to citizens. Two of the country's largest waste management corporations own all but one of the eight privately owned landfills in the state. Prices are kept down thanks to public landfills remaining as an option for citizens. The second reason public landfills exist is because the state and federal courts have said the only way out-of-state waste may be rejected by state or local governments is if a local government owns the landfill and chooses to reject out-of-jurisdiction waste coming into its own facility. The government cannot discriminate against out-of-state waste in its regulation of private landfills because doing so would burden interstate commerce.
The survey shows that 88.2 percent of registered South Carolina voters oppose out-of-state waste being imported into this state, and 76.4 percent of voters support county governments controlling where waste is disposed in their own backyards. This bill does the opposite of what the citizens in this state want, and it promises to give out-of-state waste corporations a complete monopoly and South Carolina's citizens no say in becoming, even more than it is today, the nation's garbage dump.
Charles T. Edens is president of the South Carolina Association of Counties.