A Pledge to Revise Landfill Expansion Rules

iesilandfillAustin American-Statesman
Kevin Carmody

Texas environmental commissioners pledged Wednesday to revise state rules that make it possible for landfill operators to seek approval for significant expansions with little public input.

The issue arose as the three-member Texas Commission on Environmental Quality considered whether to overturn its staff’s approval of a 22-acre expansion of the IESI Corp. landfill in Weatherford, west of Fort Worth, under rules that allow minor permit modifications without the public having adequate notice or the right to a formal hearing.

Citizen groups and others had argued that the expansion was significant and that state regulators should have handled the case as a permit amendment, which allows neighbors to request a formal hearing and present evidence. The groups expressed concerns that approval might set a precedent that could thwart public participation in other landfill cases, including several landfills in Central Texas that have indicated they want to expand.

The commissioners upheld their staff’s decision to approve the modifications after the landfill neighbors and the Texas Campaign for the Environment reached an eleventh-hour settlement with IESI and withdrew their objections Wednesday morning. The company agreed to height limits, a larger buffer between its operations and neighbors’ land, and better public notice if it seeks further expansion, said campaign representative Eleanor Whitmore.

But the broader concerns the opponents had raised seemed to resonate with the commissioners.

“I have a real problem with the way we’re handling modifications versus amendments,” Commissioner Larry Soward said. “I’m concerned we do too many as modifications, which cuts off the public’s ability to know what will go on at a site.

“I’m not considering this (approval) a precedent,” Soward said.

Commissioner Chairman Kathleen Hartnett White joined Soward in directing agency staff to examine how those rules could be clarified as part of a current project to revise other aspects of the landfill permitting process.

Commissioner Ralph Marquez said that he doubted the commission would see many cases similar to the IESI request but that he shared concern about landfill operators “seeking individual modifications that add up.”

Whitmore said the commissioners’ reactions showed that, in reaching a compromise with IESI, her group and the neighbors may have improved the chances for meaningful reform.

In the settlement, the company agreed to urge the commission to adopt rule changes clarifying when an amendment must be sought.

“We didn’t want to win today but lose the larger battle over revising the rules,” Whitmore said. “It showed we’re not just trying to obstruct landfill companies.”

Commission to Hold Hearing on Landfill

iesilandfillWeatherford Democrat
Heather Reifsnyder

Parker County residents opposed to a landfill expansion will now be able to have their side heard before the state’s environmental quality agency.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality announced Friday that it will consider during a public meeting petitions to overturn the landfill’s permit modification that would allow it to expand. The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 26 in Austin.

“We’re thrilled that we’ve gotten this far,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the environmental organization Texas Campaign for the Environment, which is working with landfill neighbors.

The landfill, located southwest of Weatherford but within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, is owned by a company called IESI. In what some consider a shady move, TCEQ Executive Director Glenn Shankle approved IESI’s permit modification in November. This opened the door for IESI to expand its landfill by 22 acres.

Eleanor Whitmore of Texas Campaign for the Environment said IESI should be required to file for a permit amendment, a lengthier process than a modification and one that requires public meetings.

Subsequent to Shankle’s decision, some filed motions to overturn it, including TCEQ’s own Office of Public Interest Counsel. Texas Campaign for the Environment also filed.

Groups who filed motions will have 15 minutes among themselves to present their case. IESI will have 10 minutes and Shankle five. After two deadline extensions, TCEQ’s three ruling commissioners now have until 5 p.m. Jan. 28 to choose to act on the motions to overturn.

TCEQ required IESI to notify people within 500 feet of the landfill of its plans to expand. Some people living close to the landfill, but beyond 500 feet, only recently learned of the proposed expansion.

One of them, Ed Kramer, contacted Weatherford Rep. Phil King for help. One thing King’s office did was broker an upcoming meeting in Austin between IESI and some neighbors of the landfill. Also Friday, IESI gave neighbors a tour of the landfill and answered questions.

Shannon Pana, who is building a home east of the landfill, said IESI officials were cordial and willing to answer questions. But she said she felt no resolution afterward.

“For me, if anything, I had more of a sinking feeling when I could see my home [from the landfill],” she said.

Pana said she is most concerned not about the current proposed expansion, but what could happen farther down the line if IESI needs to expand again.

IESI purchased the landfill from the city of Weatherford in May 2003 for $4.9 million. It began trucking in waste from other Texas counties, greatly increasing the landfill’s intake.

Groups hope to overturn permit to expand landfill

iesilandfillWeatherford Democrat
Heather Reifsnyder

Today could be pivotal for whether the state of Texas allows IESI to expand its landfill operation southwest of Weatherford. Three separate groups filed motions with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to overturn the IESI’s permit modification, whereby the company can use 22 more acres for trash disposal.

TCEQ commissioners had a deadline today if they want to consider overturning the permit modification.

Weatherford Rep. Phil King’s office said it planned to send a letter to TCEQ Thursday asking it to extend today’s deadline by two weeks, giving concerned landfill neighbors more time to make known their stance against the expansion. IESI informally agreed to an expansion through Wednesday, said Trey Trainor, King’s chief of staff.

TCEQ is not required to honor King’s request.

Most of a new coalition of about 50 concerned neighbors only recently learned of IESI’s plans to expand. One of them, Ed Kramer, contacted King’s office Wednesday. It was the first time anyone has contacted the representative with concerns about the expansion, which has been in the works for months.

“Nobody knows that there’s an expansion, so how can you have an objection if there isn’t knowledge?” Kramer said.

Kramer learned of the expansion just two days ago after being called by Eleanor Whitmore of Texas Campaign for the Environment. He and his wife live on 200 acres that is within sight of the landfill and its machines.

“I was incredibly upset,” Kramer said. “I immediately wanted to consider a plan of action.”

As required by TCEQ, IESI informed people who live within 500 feet – less than a tenth of a mile – of the landfill of the plans to expand. But people like Kramer and his neighbors in the nearby Westridge subdivision live beyond 500 feet, yet within sight of the landfill.

IESI Regional Vice President Jeff Peckham said the company has met with many people in the area about its operations, including people who live beyond 500 feet away.

Kramer also contacted Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison and addressed City Council Tuesday night, giving the council members copies of a note which he invited them to send to TCEQ. The letter stated that they no longer approve of the expansion.

The Democrat was not able to find out whether any of the council members sent the letter.

Wednesday night, the neighbors group met with Texas Campaign for the Environment’s Whitmore.

Whitmore said her organization is concerned that TCEQ Executive Director Glenn Shankle agreed in November to IESI’s permit modification instead of requiring the waste company to file for a major amendment, a lengthier process which requires public hearings. Texas Campaign for the Environment, another group of nearby landowners and TCEQ’s own internal public interest council all filed petitions asking for the decision to be overturned. TCEQ’s three commissioners will make the decision.

IESI bought the landfill from the city of Weatherford in May 2003 for $4.9 million. The company then began bringing in trash from other counties, greatly increasing the landfill’s intake.

Environmentalists Protest Apple’s ‘iWaste’

appleprotestNew York Times

Apple Computer Corp. has become the darling of the technology sector for its wildly popular digital music player. But scorching iPod sales have also made it the target of an aggressive environmental coalition, which is trashing Apple as rotten to the core. Environmentalists with the Computer TakeBack Campaign are planning a yearlong campaign to protest Apple’s lackluster recycling efforts. Despite drizzle on Tuesday at the annual Macworld Conference & Expo, activists passed out leaflets and erected a giant banner proclaiming, “from iPod to iWaste.”

The advocacy group, which last year badgered Dell Inc. until it significantly bolstered its recycling initiatives, plans protests at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters throughout 2005, a letter-writing and e-mail campaign, and other attacks against the maker of Macintosh computers. Environmentalists said they’re targeting Apple because the hardware and software company makes it difficult to replace batteries in its digital music players, and it charges many consumers $30 to recycle their unused or broken computers and laptops.

“We know consumers won’t pay 30 bucks to get rid of something they think is junk,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Apple can do a lot better — they’re lagging way behind Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Now they need to take the next step and really ‘think different,'” Schneider said, playing off Apple’s advertising slogan.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said Tuesday the company would not comment on the environmental crusade. On Thursday, Apple promised to join eBay Inc. and Intel Corp., which launched an informational Web site to help motivate Americans to resell, donate or recycle used gadgets. Apple doesn’t charge consumers to recycle outdated electronics in Japan, Europe, Taiwan and South Korea, but environmentalists say the company is a significant contributor to the growing problem of “e-waste” in the United States.

U.S. consumers retire or replace roughly 133,000 personal computers per day, according to research firm Gartner Inc. According to a study commissioned by San Jose, Calif.-based Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, roughly half of all U.S. households have working but unused consumer electronics products. Roughly 400 million gizmos will be thrown out by 2010. Protesters said the popularity of the iPod and iPod Mini — as well as more affordable gadgets such as the $99 iPod Shuffle, which debuted Tuesday — make Apple an obvious target for environmentalists’ scorn. Apple sold 4.5 million iPods in the fourth quarter and more than 10 million since their debut in 2001. During the 2004 holiday season, three of the top five consumer electronics sold on Amazon.com were Apple products.

The falling price and diminutive size of iPods — including the Shuffle, which weighs less than an ounce and is smaller than a pack of gum — promotes the notion that they’re disposable, said Mamta Khanna, program manager for Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health. “People think you can just trash these things,” Khanna said. “No one’s thinking about where they end up.”