STATEMENT OF ROBERT G. BURNLEY, DIRECTOR
VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
March 20, 2002
Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Bob Burnley, Director of Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you about Virginia's concerns about interstate waste.
Solid Waste Management and Interstate Waste Disposal in Virginia:
Governor Warner and I are concerned about interstate waste because landfills consume open space and threaten the quality of our environment. While every state has a responsibility to ensure adequate and safe waste disposal capacity for its citizens, Virginia should not be forced to assume these long-term costs and increased risks for other states. We should not have our hands tied as we attempt to protect ourselves from the onslaught of garbage from other states.
Virginia is second in the nation in the amount of out-of-state waste received. Over the last decade, the amount of out-of-state waste imported to Virginia has more than doubled. In 2000, Virginia imported 4.5 million tons of solid waste. This represents more than twenty percent of Virginia's total waste stream.
Landfill permits consume approximately 10,000 acres in Virginia. This capacity will last until 2014 if disposal volumes remain constant. If, however, Virginia is not able to cap the flow of waste from other states, we may be forced to provide additional landfill space at a much earlier date.
The U.S. EPA acknowledges that, despite our best technology, all landfills will leak eventually. Virginia has enacted very stringent requirements for the siting, monitoring and operation of its landfills, more stringent than those established by EPA. Despite our best efforts to protect Virginia's environment, however, we do not know what will happen twenty or thirty years from now. Common sense tells us that the larger the landfill and the more waste we are forced to accept, the greater the risks of ground water contamination and other pollution.
Unfortunately, Virginia has already suffered the consequences of uncontrolled shipment of out-of-state waste. The Kim-Stan Landfill in western Virginia was originally operated as a local landfill but was later purchased by private interests. In the subsequent months they began importing waste from other states, increasing the volume significantly. Hundreds of tractor-trailers filled with trash traveled the back roads of rural Allegheny County each day. The owners soon filed bankruptcy and the landfill is now a Superfund site. The Commonwealth has already expended millions of its taxpayer dollars to investigate and contain the contamination; neither the generators nor the generating state have borne any of these costs. We hope our enhanced landfill regulations will prevent this type of environmental catastrophe from happening in the future, but the fact remains that no one is certain that current landfill designs are adequate to provide long-term environmental protection.
Another concern is our inability to enforce against generators who send their waste to Virginia facilities. Virginia prohibits certain types of waste from its landfills that are allowed in the municipal solid waste streams of other states. Without the ability to limit imports from these states, Virginia is forced to expend more of its state-funded compliance resources at landfills accepting wastes from other states. When violations are found, however, we have no authority to pursue enforcement against the source of the waste if they are outside Virginia.
In 1998 and 1999, DEQ found illegal wastes in loads of trash coming from New York City. In the resulting litigation, the Virginia State Courts found that it would be impossible for a New York City transfer station to adequately screen the trash to prevent these banned wastes from making their way to Virginia's landfills unless the volumes were significantly curtailed. The federal courts, however, have prevented us from imposing any limits or caps on the disposal of these wastes because it would violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
Every day, trains filled with garbage travel Virginia's railways, many parking along the way while they wait their turn at the landfill. Tractor trailers filled with garbage work their way through the crowded interstate system and across rural Virginia. At least one of Virginia's landfill operators plans to use barges to import garbage. Each barge will bring approximately 250 tractor-trailer loads of trash across the Chesapeake Bay and up the James River. Virginia has tried to protect itself by imposing disposal caps, regulating large trash trucks, and imposing restrictions on trash barges; but the federal courts have blocked these efforts.
The Commonwealth seeks the authority to control how our natural resources are consumed and protect the long-term welfare of our citizens. In order to do this, we are asking Congress to grant states the ability to control the importation of garbage. This authority should be simple and flexible enough to meet the needs of all states, without basing it upon the solid waste management system of one particular state.
For example, some of the legislation being considered would authorize states to cap waste imports at 1993 levels. Virginia first collected verifiable information on waste imports in 1998. The Department of Environmental Quality has been working with Senator Warner and other members to identify these concerns and I hope that we will be able to address them before any action is taken.
I applaud the Committee for continuing its efforts to address this issue. Thank you for the opportunity to present Virginia's concerns about interstate waste disposal. I would be happy to work with you and your staff to move such legislation forward. This concludes my prepared remarks, and I will be happy to answer any questions.