Can Courts Get Waste Management to Do What’s Right?

Posted on the Pacific Sun website by Ed Mainland, a resident of the Bel Marin Keys neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Waste Management Inc. (WMI) is the mega-corporation that owns and operates Redwood Landfill, a dump next to sensitive wetlands north of Novato. WMI complains they can’t do good things – like more composting, waste-to-energy recovery, a resource recovery park – so long as a citizens group is contesting in court the environmental impact statement that justifies the dump’s expansion.

Yes, Marin County is being sued for errors made in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). And yes, Waste Management Inc. is the “Party of Interest” in the suit. Marin environmental advocates are in fact seeking legal redress in hopes of securing a number of things WMI has so far failed to deliver:

— A stronger independent monitor testing program.

— Surrounding levee walls strong enough not to collapse in an earthquake, spilling toxic leachate from rotting garbage into the beautiful wetlands bordering the dump.

— Elimination of food and green waste from the mounting trash heap, because it decomposes into methane–a potent greenhouse gas dozens of times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

— Real assurances that WMI will pay for any clean-up of a catastrophe, rather than Marinites paying hundreds of millions of dollars, and possibly a billion, in taxes.

Lately WMI has been saying it truly wants to stop putting food and green waste into the landfill. This is music to the ears of litigants who would like to believe. But WMI’s record of tens of millions of dollars in fines and court judgments for illegal, damaging acts around the country in other landfill operations rightly makes the plaintiffs uneasy.

There isn’t that much evidence, the litigants say, that WMI is sincere about wanting voluntarily to stop putting methane-producing organic materials into Marin’s “Mount Trashmore”.

But it isn’t really clear why WMI says the very existence of the environmental advocates’ lawsuit prevents WMI from eliminating food and green waste from Redwood.

Advocates say this is completely false. They see this to be a delaying tactic and assert that nothing about their lawsuit prevents WMI from sending food and green waste to composting and energy recovery. If the company really wanted to stop this waste from piling up and creating more damaging methane, they argue, it would already be doing so right now.

Marin County’s Supervisors also have some responsibility for food waste and green waste diversion. As “franchisers” for over 10 County areas, they, with cities, can set the rules for the garbage haulers.

Zero Waste advocates say Supervisors should amend these franchise agreements to direct garbage companies to stop putting organics in the landfill.

If they don’t, getting Marin to Zero Waste is going to be a very long haul.