Tag Archives: landfill

Former Lawmaker Recalls Bribe Offer on Landfill Legislation

Excerpt from Stephen Hale’s thorough report on a lawsuit, legislation and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation as they relate to a landfill near Camden.
If the Jackson Law didn’t deliver the protection Camden residents hoped, maybe other legislation will. State Rep. Tim Wirgau, whose district includes Camden, is actively trying to slow the landfill permitting process. He’s filed a bill (HB952) that would amend the Jackson Law by adding a requirement for public notice and a public hearing prior to an increase in a landfill’s classification, or an expansion of the type of waste the landfill is authorized to accept.
Last year, Wirgau sponsored a bill that would have effectively shut down the EWS site. The bill made only one proper appearance in a subcommittee — which was not attended by EWS representatives — and was eventually deferred without ever getting a vote.
His new bill is yet to appear for the first time at the legislature. Wirgau says he’s optimistic, but that his guard is up after support he thought he had in his camp last year vanished. And he’s already heard from the opposition.
“We have heard from some of the larger landfill people with concerns, like, ‘Oh, we’ve already got enough problems so I don’t think we’re going to be on your side on this one,’ ” Wirgau tells the Scene. “My take is on it, look — if you’re a landfill operator and you are doing a good job, and you are working within your communities and all the boundaries, I don’t think any of the locals are going to have a problem with the operation that you’re running right now. But if you’re a bad actor, and not doing things properly, then you’re going to have a tough time getting an expansion or a new permit, especially from the locals.”
One former legislator would no doubt sympathize with Wirgau’s uphill battle. In 1989, Doug Jackson learned about the dirty politics of trash. Then a Tennessee state representative, he proposed the legislation nicknamed for him in response to a large landfill that had been proposed in his Dickson County district.
Suddenly, Jackson remembers, he was a popular man on Capitol Hill — or at least his office was crowded.
“It had lobbyists lined up 20 deep, and all the landfill companies obviously mobilized in opposition,” says Jackson, who left office after his defeat in 2010 and now serves as executive director of The Renaissance Center in Dickson. “And then the Tennessee Municipal League opposed it. The County Governments Association opposed it. It just seemed to have no friends.”
It was the toughest piece of legislation he ever sponsored, he says. He adds that it was notable for another reason: the first and only time in office he was ever offered a bribe.
The day after the bill passed out of the House environment committee, Jackson recalls, a man from South Carolina showed up at his law office without an appointment. He said he was involved with several landfills, Jackson says, including what was then the largest hazardous waste landfill in the country along with the landfill proposed for Jackson’s district. And he had a proposition.
“He said, ‘I’ve made all the money that I could ever hope to spend in my life, this landfill up here is going to be another good one, and I know you’re under pressure. And we’re used to addressing that, the pressures of local officials,’ ” Jackson remembers. “He said, ‘I think we can make this worth your while.’ ”
At that point, Jackson stepped outside and asked his secretary to come into the office and have a seat.
“Now do you want to go ahead and continue this conversation, or do you want to change the subject?” Jackson recalls telling the man.
The man just laughed, Jackson says, and got up to leave saying that he could see they weren’t going to get anywhere. Several years later, after the bill had passed into law, the two crossed paths again. Jackson says the man flagged him down, reminded Jackson who he was, and told him he’d done a “very stupid thing.”
“You would’ve made enough money out of that, you would’ve never had to work another day in your life,” Jackson recalls him saying.

Judge Requires Answers to Questions About TDEC Meeting With Landfill Operators

In a recent deposition, state lawyers refused to allow state geologist James Clark to answer questions about what happened in a closed-door meeting between officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and officials of Waste Management Inc.l, reports Anne Paine. Now a judge has ordered that the questions be answered.
The decision opens the way for the geologist to speak about topics that include who pressured him to find ways to allow the expansion of an almost-full landfill in Marshall County into an area with a sinkhole and creek to move forward.
…Clark was being quizzed as part of a lawsuit filed against Waste Management and its Cedar Ridge Landfill in Lewisburg by four neighbors and one local environmental group. They say pollution, including chlorides, ammonia, nitrates and silt, has harmed properties and continues to taint creeks and springs. Waste Management has denied that this is so. The state was pulled into the case as a third party.
….Clark “is ordered to attend his deposition scheduled on August 8, 2011,” wrote Joe B. Brown, U.S. magistrate judge for the Middle District Court of Tennessee. Clark may testify about discussions and meetings with representatives of Waste Management and state staff but not discussions where the state’s environment department general counsel or staff from the attorney general’s office were present, Brown wrote.
Questions to which state attorneys allowed no answers this summer included just who had been pressuring Clark to find a way to approve the permit. He had testified he had been pressed to do so.
He also was not allowed to say how the state, in the private meetings, decided that boring two holes into the proposed expansion site at the landfill “fully resolves the long-standing concerns of a collapse” there, according to a filing by attorney Elizabeth Murphy, representing the neighbors and the environmental group.

Landfill Expansion, Denied Under Bredesen, Gets Fresh Look Under Haslam

Waste Management Inc., told it could not expand a landfill near Lewisburg by state regulators under Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, has been told that it can expand under a plan approved by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, reports Anne Paine.
The Department of Environment and Conservation said in April, 2010, that the company should not expand its almost-full Cedar Ridge Landfill into an area with a sinkhole and creek.
Contamination from the landfill 55 miles south of Nashville had showed up repeatedly in local waters, regulators said. Also, limestone riddled with cracks and open cavities lies beneath much of the property, making the area unstable.
This year under a new governor, state regulators held private negotiations with landfill officials who had appealed the denial. The meetings led to a signed agreement that is serving as a how-to-expand-the-landfill guide.
State environmental officials say the document has nothing to do with politics and doesn’t guarantee approval for extending the life of the landfill in Lewisburg, where Middle Tennessee waste — including some of Nashville’s sewage sludge — has gone over the years.
“We said, ‘Here are our objections,’ and they said, ‘Well, we think we can give you information to overcome those objections,’ ” said Bob Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
We said, ‘OK, we’ll give you a shot to do that.’ ”
Local resident Kathy Fox said she is worried and perplexed. Engineering to try to fix the site’s many shortcomings could bring problems later.
“We’d like to know why the state has changed its mind,” said Fox, with the nonprofit Tri-County Environmental Association.
“We felt like it’s not a matter of if the sinkhole will collapse, but when. You would have such a disaster — the pollution that would cause would be beyond our imagination.”
The group is one of five parties — the others being neighbors of the landfill — that filed a lawsuit against Waste Management last year over pollution from the more than 20-year-old landfill, which they say continues to taint creeks and springs.
Waste Management has denied the accusations, saying it has no ongoing state or federal violations at its Cedar Ridge Landfill in Marshall County
.

Senate Panel Dumps Anti-Radioactive Waste Bill

A state Senate committee has killed a bill by a Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis that sought to halt or curtail the amount of low-level radioactive waste being dumped into Tennessee landfills, reports Richard Locker.
Marrero, D-Memphis, told her colleagues on the Senate Environment, Conservation & Tourism Committee that she’s concerned about the volume of the waste flowing into the state for processing.
Some of the waste is dumped into the South and North Shelby landfills, two state-licensed, privately operated landfills authorized to accept the waste under a state regulatory program that exists only in Tennessee.
The committee discussed the bill for about 50 minutes Wednesday before amending it so that its provisions would not interfere with any current private waste-processing contracts until they are renewed. The committee then killed the entire bill, with only two Democrats’ votes for passage and five Republicans’ votes against.