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N.H. lawmakers consider bill that would stop new landfills, for now

Berkeley Parenteau stands in front of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services during a rally against the development of a landfill near Forest Lake State Park.
Mara Hoplamazian
Berkeley Parenteau stands in front of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services during a rally against the development of a landfill near Forest Lake State Park.

New Hampshire legislators are considering a bill that would prohibit the Department of Environmental Services from issuing new permits for landfills until they revise the state’s solid waste plan.

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Controversial landfill expansions, lack of leadership

The state’s solid waste plan is supposed to be updated every six years, but the most recent plan is from 2003.

Rep. Linda Massimilla, D-Littleton, sponsored the bill. In a hearing Tuesday in the House’s Environment and Agriculture Committee, she said a lack of funding and staff at the Department of Environmental Services contributed to the 13-year delay.

New landfills and expansions have been contentious in New Hampshire. Last year, a new solid waste working group came together to help plan for the future of trash and recycling in the Granite State. DES expects to have an updated plan by October of this year, and supporters of the bill say the state shouldn’t make decisions about solid waste until that plan is released.

“A landfill permit is a generational decision with enormous health, safety, and environmental impacts and risks for decades to come,” said Wayne Morrison, president of the North Country Alliance for Balanced Change, during the hearing.

The Department of Environmental Services didn’t take a position on the bill. But Mike Wimsatt, director of the Waste Management Division, said the language of the bill, as introduced, would also prohibit them from permitting new facilities like recycling centers, transfer stations, and composting facilities, some of which they hope to approve before updating the plan.

Rep. Massimilla introduced an amendment Tuesday that would change the language of the bill to only prohibit DES from issuing permits for new landfills, which would allow permitting for landfill expansions and other facilities.

The ‘Bottle Bill’ is back

The Environment and Agriculture committee also considered a so-called “bottle bill” to establish a redemption program for beverage containers.

The bill would have Granite Staters pay 10 extra cents for a beverage, and get a dime back when they return the container.

Rep. Timothy Egan, who sponsored the bill, says all of New Hampshire’s neighboring states have similar bills.

The small fee could make a big impact, he said, by reducing the need for landfill space, driving economic development through redemption centers, and cutting down long-term costs for beverage manufacturers facing high prices for raw manufacturing materials.

Scott Schaier, executive director of the New Hampshire Beer Distributors Association, opposed the bill. He said a bottle bill would make New Hampshire less competitive with neighboring states, which do have similar bills.

“I don’t think we should do what our neighboring states are doing,” he said. “I’ve talked to a couple of executive directors in states that have my role…and they do not love their bottle bills.”

Other efforts at a bottle deposit law in New Hampshire have floundered in the past, due to some usual opponents – the beverage and grocers associations, which both had representatives speak in opposition of the bill at the Tuesday hearing.

But Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis, who sponsored the bill, says its time has come.

“Although Rep. Egan and I are fully aware that New Hampshire marches to its own drum,” she said, “We know that we can’t avoid the problem of growing solid waste piles around our state.”

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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