Environmentalists hopeful about proposed Senate bill aimed at revising landfill siting rules

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 04-24-2023 9:29 AM

A bill that could potentially bring about more stringent landfill safety regulations has been passed in New Hampshire’s Senate and is now headed to the House of Representatives, giving hope to environmental advocates. This follows the rejection of another bill earlier this month by the state Senate, which sought to increase the setback distance between landfills and water sources.

With the growing awareness of the dangers posed by landfills, the issue of leachate contamination has become a pressing concern for environmental advocates and local residents. Although landfill technology has improved significantly over the years, leachate remains a persistent threat to the environment, posing risks to the quality of soil and water sources.

“In general I think that the House and the Senate are on the same page in recognizing that we have to do something about it [landfill safety],” said Sen. David Watters, co-sponsor of several landfill-related bills. “We have to figure out what is going to be the kind of safety we need to provide for landfill siting.”

In this year’s legislative session, lawmakers are discussing a number of bills targeted toward strengthening regulations and oversight of landfills to prevent leachate from contaminating the surrounding environment.

One of the key bills proposed this year was House Bill 56, which aimed to change the siting of landfills. The bill required landfill operators to hire hydrogeologists to survey soil types and establish a five-year setback from water bodies, ensuring that leachate released from landfills would take at least five years to reach the nearest water source. However, the bill was not successful.

“We still stand behind HB 56 – an extremely good bill that is straightforward, simple and highly protective,” said Wayne Morrison, president of the North Country Alliance For Balanced Change, an organization advocating for environmental protection in the North Country.

Despite HB 56’s defeat, Morrison is in favor of several elements of Senate Bill 61, another bill that directs the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) to review and revise rules governing the setbacks of newly sighted landfills from water bodies to impose site-specific requirements to prevent groundwater contamination. In addition, the bill would allocate funds to the NHDES to hire an external consultant to conduct a study on landfill siting standards.

The proposed bill will be debated in the House on Tuesday.

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However, Morrison and other environmental advocates are calling for some amendments to make it more balanced and effective.

Loopholes in the bill

Most of the amendments proposed by many concerned with environmental protection are to close the loopholes within the bill.

If SB 61 is approved, NHDES will have 24 months from the effective date of the bill to establish new setback regulations. During this time, landfill permit applications will be placed on hold until the new guidelines are in place. Once established, permit applications must be modified to meet the new standards. If, for any reason, the NHDES fails to establish new rules within the given time frame, the current setback rules of 200 feet from water bodies will apply to permit applications.

“We think everybody acknowledges that the current regulation is not what we want,” said Morrison concerned that SB 61 would not be as protective as it needs to be. “We want to see the House work with the Senate and collectively come up with a reasonable fix for a couple of the loopholes in it.”

This loophole is concerning for opponents of the much-debated proposed Granite State Landfill, near Forest Lake in the rural town of Dalton.

Another issue with the existing draft of the bill is that it does not adequately address the possibility of conflicts of interest that may arise during the hiring of a consultant for the assessment study.

Despite the gaps in the bill and the setback regulations in the DES and industry-supported Senate Bill not yet clear, environmental advocates are optimistic that the bill is a step in the right direction in protecting the environment.

“It’s great that New Hampshire is revisiting its setback requirements, and that they’re going to get money to hire somebody to assess what they need to change,” said Nora Bosworth, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation’s Zero Waste Project, who will be proposing amendments to the bill at the hearing.

Ensuring that landfills are located in areas where a potential leak would not cause catastrophic consequences is crucial. However, Bosworth said that the sustainable waste management approach is to eliminate the dependence on landfills and incinerators. Instead, the focus should be on advocating for waste reduction at the source, diverting waste, recycling, and composting.

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