Trash Talk

New rules for state garbage

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is close to finalizing the largest overhaul of its trash rules in more than a decade and the agency's foremost watchdog, the nonprofit Texas Campaign for the Environment, has been eyeing the process closely. TCE's new report "Texas Trash Rules Matter: Why Stronger Rules Are Needed for Super-Sized Landfills to Stop the Trashing of Texas" argues that Texas' trash standards Are the weakest in the nation and includes recommendations for strengthening TCEQ's municipal solid waste rules – Chapter 330 of the Texas Administrative Code. Among the recommendations are calls to enlarge the 50-foot buffer zone around landfills or waste sites; requests for better ground water monitoring standards, considering EPA data showing 75% of landfills were leaking contaminants; efforts to prohibit household electronic waste such as cell phones and TVs, known to contain toxic heavy metals, from municipal landfills; adding time limits to waste permits, allowing for more scrutiny and public accountability; and closing loopholes permitting vertical expansions at older sites, grandfathered by the state to be exempt from rules requiring protective liners beneath trash.

The TCEQ's proposed new rules take a number of the requests into account. The buffer size has been increased to 125 feet, although TCE still believes this is too small given how large some landfills have become. The agency has made significant groundwater monitoring changes, requiring testing wells no less than 600 feet apart at waste sites and barring facility operators from filtering water samples prior to testing. Not included in the new rules are provisions for household e-waste prohibition. Municipal Solid Waste Permits Manager Richard Carmichael pointed to existing commercial and industrial rules, saying household e-waste is more of a recycling issue. With respect to more accountable, time-limited permits, based on public comment, the TCEQ executive director will now review permits and registrations on a continuing five-year basis. TCE wants added public participation in the process. Perhaps most significantly, the new rules don't close the so-called grandfathered loophole for expansions, which TCE claims both undermines EPA efforts to clean up older unlined landfills, and unfairly penalizes operators of newer landfills using safe technology.

TCEQ commissioners were set to finalize the rules at their Feb. 1 meeting, but postponed the decision until the March 1 meeting, allowing for public comment and an extra public meeting, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 10. To find out more or to send comments, see www.tceq.state.tx.us/permitting/waste_permits/
advgroups/msw_ch330_advgp.html
; to read TCE's report see www.texasenvironment.org.

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