Date: June 15, 2010
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
After nearly a decade of rejection, Waste Management's Alliance Landfill in Lackawanna County, PA cleared a major hurdle on its way to winning an 87-acre expansion along with a commensurate increase in daily acceptance from 2,000 tons to 4,000 tons. This week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved the company's environmental assessment of the expansion. "The landfill was able to document to the department that the benefits for this proposal clearly outweigh the potential harms," said Mark Carmon, a spokesman for DEP. The DEP still needs to weigh in Alliance's engineering plans with regard to groundwater monitoring and gas management before it gives final approval.
The so-called "harms / benefits" test employed by the DEP dates to the late 90's when the state, then under Gov. Tom Ridge, was looking for ways to stem rapidly rising waste imports, primarily from New York and New Jersey, and out of concern for its citizens living near its rapidly expanding landfills. The Supreme Court had already ruled that states could not prohibit or even discriminate against out-of-state waste as this was a violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause of the US Constitution and interfered with interstate commerce. So the state stepped up its use of its police powers and employed a novel policy called harms / benefits analysis to increase the burden on landfill owners to prove that expansions would not harm citizens and that any risks would be outweighed by economic or other benefits. Industry countered that harms / benefits analysis was a matter of policy and not regulation. Ultimately, in a case involving another Waste Management landfill, Dauphin Meadows, an independent environmental hearing board agreed and overturned a previous DEP expansion denial. But by 2002, when Alliance applied for an expansion, DEP had by then incorporated "harms / benefits" policy into its regulations. Again, Waste Management and the industry argued, albeit unsuccessfully, that only the Pennsylvania General Assembly, not state agencies, could establish a policy like the harms-benefits test.
Since then, the onus has been on Waste Management to prove that the landfill and its proposed expansion would not be harmful to the surrounding environment and that any adverse impacts such as noise and odors would be outweighed by economic benefits.
PA DEP Approves Alliance Landfill's Environmental Assessment
Engineering, Technical Review of Plan to Follow
The Department of Environmental Protection announced today that it has approved the environmental assessment of Alliance Sanitary Landfill's proposed expansion in Taylor Borough and Ransom Township, Lackawanna County.
The assessment represents the first phase of the department's review of the proposal.
"Alliance documented that the environmental, social and economic benefits clearly outweighed the potential environmental harms. As such, we have approved this first phase of their expansion application," said Northeast Regional Director Michael Bedrin. "This is only the first step in the process. A comprehensive review of the engineering and technical aspects of their application will now begin."
Alliance Landfill applied for an 87.3-acre expansion of its lined disposal area and an increase in its average daily volume from 2,000 tons per day to 4,000 tons per day.
DEP held a public hearing on the environmental assessment, also known as the harms/benefits analysis, on Jan. 13.
The assessment process requires landfills to provide a detailed analysis that describes the proposed facility's potential impact on the environment, public health and public safety; and the known and potential harms of the proposed project.
The analysis must include a written mitigation plan that explains how the landfill will deal with each known or potential harm, as well as the extent to which any known or potential harms will remain after mitigation. It must also demonstrate that the benefits to the public clearly outweigh the project's known and potential harms.
In approving the Alliance assessment, DEP evaluated the social and economic benefits to the municipalities and found that the benefits included: free waste disposal; recycling and environmental education programs; the landfill's support for watershed and community groups; and the host municipality agreements with Taylor Borough and Ransom Township.
The potential environmental impacts identified during the application's review included dust and odors, diminished aesthetics, additional noise and litter, improperly contained truck loads, and general transportation issues, among others.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) evaluated air monitoring data from DEP and Alliance, and recently concluded that the landfill would not be expected to harm the public's health.
The environmental assessment approval does not authorize changes to the landfill's permit. That decision will be made based on the company's ability to meet the department's solid waste engineering and technical regulations.
For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us or call 570-826-2511.
Media contact: Mark Carmon, 570-826-2511