The garbage industry's push for a greater share of South Carolina's trash market took a hit this week with a survey showing that 88 percent of those questioned oppose importing waste from other places for burial in the Palmetto State.
Of the 800 people asked by University of South Carolina researchers, just 8 percent said private waste companies should be allowed to haul in garbage from other states for disposal in their landfills. Nearly 4 percent had no opinion, the survey found.
The S.C. Association of Counties, which commissioned the survey, said the results are a prime reason state lawmakers should stop a waste industry bill limiting county control of garbage. An estimated 100 county officials from across South Carolina packed a news conference in Columbia to show their opposition to the bill.
"The General Assembly ... must decide whether to support large out-of-state waste corporations or the citizens of this state," said Sumter County Councilman Charles T. Edens, president of the counties' association. If the bill is approved, "large megadumps that accept dewatered human fecal matter from New York will become the norm in South Carolina."
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Waste industry officials say the bill would prevent county monopolies that require garbage to be buried in government landfills. Changing the law, they say, would open the trash market to more competition and better prices. Republic Services and Waste Management, two of the nation's biggest garbage companies, are leading a well-financed lobbying campaign to promote the legislation.
But local governments, including Beaufort County, say the bill would create private monopolies by making it harder for governments to operate their own landfills.
Beaufort County officials say they aren't interested in opening a landfill, but they are concerned the legislation would lead to higher taxes for residents.
That's because private waste companies could import out-of-state garbage and raise the county's costs.
Beaufort County contracts with Waste Management, which hauls trash to the company's Hickory Hill landfill in Jasper County.
"Because Beaufort County does not have, nor wants to have, a landfill within its borders, we are subject to the pricing of the nearest private provider," county administrator Gary Kubic has said. "Therefore it's my belief this legislation, eliminating the ability of the county to direct the flow, will require the imposition of higher taxes on all Beaufort County property owners."
Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens, and Horry GOP Rep. Nelson Hardwick, who led the charge for the legislation, quickly discounted the county association's survey results. Verdin called the USC survey and comments Tuesday a "red herring" that confuses the issue.
"No one wants the proliferation of out-of-state waste, whether that be nuclear waste ... or trash barges from New York and New Jersey -- but that's not the point at all," Verdin said. "This is nothing but misdirection."
Verdin said the bill focuses on preventing ordinances like one passed in Horry County that require all county garbage to be disposed of at the county landfill -- not opening South Carolina to more out-of-state waste.
The bill sailed through the House earlier this year and has since been approved in a committee chaired by Sen. Harvey Peeler, whose brother, Bob, is an executive with Waste Management. Sen. Peeler, R-Cherokee, has said he has not discussed the legislation with his brother.
Whether the bill passes the Senate this year is unknown. Opponents have placed objections on the bill that makes it harder to bring up for a vote.