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A bill to change NH’s landfill rules gets support from Sununu, state regulators

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

State environmental officials told a legislative committee on Tuesday they support a plan to change the state’s landfill regulations. And, they said, Gov. Chris Sununu supports the current legislation – despite vetoing a similar bill last year.

Efforts to change landfill regulations have been in front of legislators since at least 2020. Advocates have pushed for regulations that more strongly protect water bodies from potential contamination.

The state’s current rules say landfills must be 200 feet away from a body of water.

Previous efforts to change landfill siting rules that would have made a more specific requirement – ensuring landfills would be far enough away from water bodies that it would take contaminated ground five years to reach them – have been voted down or vetoed by the governor.

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The bill now before lawmakers would have the Department of Environmental Services create new rules that would base the distance a landfill must be from water on the specific site of the landfill. Those would take into account the kind of soil in the area, how long it takes groundwater to travel to a water body, and other factors about the geology and hydrology of the place.

“I am very confident that this could go all the way through, including having the governor support the bill as written and as amended,” said Mark Sanborn, the assistant commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services.

But, he warned, if the bill is changed, it might lose that support.

Some legislators pushed back on Sanborn’s comments, saying they didn’t appreciate the resistance to altering the bill.

“It’s frustrating to have suggested that the bill we’re presented with is a take it or leave it option,” said state Rep. Nicholas Germana, D-Keene. “That’s not how the legislative process is intended to work.”

Environmental advocates proposed changes to the bill, which they said would make it stronger.

Currently, the bill has state regulators stop issuing permits for landfills until the new regulations are finalized, but allows them to start issuing permits under the old rules after 24 months, if new rules haven’t yet been finalized.

Nora Bosworth, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said legislators should make sure no landfill permits are issued until new rules are adopted, without exception.

“It is irresponsible to allow the issuance of a landfill permit under outdated rules simply because the agency completes their duty potentially in more months than anticipated.”

Germana asked state regulators how the removal of that part of the bill could lead to its failure.

“There are a lot of parties with opposing interests here that are on board with this bill as it’s drafted, and one or more of those may walk,” said Mike Wimsatt, the Waste Management Division Director at the Department of Environmental Services.

Bosworth also asked legislators to change the bill to make sure an independent contractor hired by state regulators to help assess the landfill rules isn’t affiliated with any past or current projects for a landfill owner or operator.

Wayne Morrison, an advocate with the North Country Alliance for Balanced Change who has opposed the proposed development of a new landfill in Dalton, said conflicts of interest could be a big issue.

“New Hampshire is a small state. My little grassroots organization went off to try and hire a solid waste engineer. And I can tell you, months into the process, every one of those people is tied to the solid waste industry in the state,” he said. “It is very important that we find somebody independent.”

When asked what parties or stakeholders might oppose changes to the bill, Assistant Commissioner Sanborn said the Department’s stakeholders included the governor, the legislature, the executive council, residents of New Hampshire, the businesses of the state, and “communities we regulate.” He added that “while we are the regulators, we find having an approach of cooperation and communication leads to better outcomes for all involved.”

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