State environmental commission passes new landfill rules

landfillwikiAustin American-Statesman
Marty Toohey

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Wednesday passed the largest overhaul of the state’s landfill rules in at least a decade but tabled some controversial pieces.  Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the rules, which include larger buffer between landfills and communities, more advanced runoff controls and more groundwater pollution testing.

Business representatives, environmental advocates and other members of the public who spoke at the meeting said the rules were an overall improvement.

Kathleen Hartnett White, chairwoman of the three-person commission, said she was tempted to vote against the changes, however, because of audience concerns about their ambiguity. But White said she wanted to get the rules in place. The vote came after the commissioners spent more than two hours modifying the new rules on the dais and after more than two hours of public input.

Bob Gregory, chairman of the state’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said that even he was not certain of all the changes made during the meeting and that the rules should not have been approved until they had been better vetted.

“From what I can tell,” said Gregory, who owns the Texas Disposal Systems landfill in southeastern Travis County, “the big landfill operators got everything they wanted.”

Commissioners tabled some provisions, including those that would require re-evaluations of landfill permits every five years and would expand buffers for waste transfer stations.

Paul Gosseling, an attorney with ties to the Sunset Farms landfill northeast of Austin in Travis County, said commissioners were right to drop the five-year evaluations. Gosseling, who represented six cities at the meeting, said the provision would have hindered the ability of growing cities to pass bond referendums for new landfills.

Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said the new rules should apply to existing landfills and those that have already filed applications to expand. She said 21 applications have been filed since the commission began drafting its new rules five months ago.

But those applications are exempt under laws that are intended to keep the rules from shifting during an application process. Commission staffers said the agency typically receives about a dozen per year.

Two landfills northeast of Austin in Travis County have filed expansion plans during the past six months. The operators of both said they filed because they would otherwise run out of space before completing the application process.

New landfill rules

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted unanimously Wednesday to approve new rules, which include:

  • Increasing buffers between landfills and surrounding communities from 50 feet to 125 feet.
  • Increasing the number of groundwater-testing wells at a landfill.
  • Giving residents the right to challenge a landfill application on the grounds that federal flood plain maps are inaccurate.
  • Increasing testing for gas emissions.

Source: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality