It's hard to imagine a place more accommodating of other people's trash than South Carolina.
Until recently, we took low-level nuclear wastes from all comers, and apparently we're doing the same with municipal garbage.
A two-year moratorium on building or expanding any more "mega-dumps" would be welcome. The idea is to give the state time to strengthen its landfill regulations. It's the least lawmakers can do.
A Senate subcommittee kept that idea alive Tuesday, sending a billto the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee. The committee should say yes, too, when it takes up the bill today.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The (Columbia) State's reporting on landfills as part of its series on the state Department of Health and Environmental Control brought the issue into focus. Here are some quick facts gleaned from the newspaper's reports:
• In 2008, South Carolina imported more than 1.5 million tons of municipal garbage from 10 other states and the District of Columbia. It is one of only 11 states to import more than 1 million tons of garbage each year.
• South Carolina has about twice the capacity needed to dispose of its own garbage, but under existing state law, that capacity could increase to nine times the amount needed for state residents.
• Hickory Hill Landfill in Jasper County imported 15,305 tons of garbage from Georgia in 2007. (In fairness, as we learned in the search for clues in the disappearance of Elizabeth and John Calvert, some trash from Beaufort County is dumped in a Jesup, Ga., landfill.)
A proposal under consideration would reduce capacity from 42 million tons a year to fewer than 13 million tons, The State reports. South Carolina residents produce about 5 million tons a year.
State Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort puts it this way: "The health of our natural resources is directly linked to our financial health, and jeopardizing one means jeopardizing the other. ... You don't accomplish either objective by becoming the nation's dumping ground for refuse -- which is precisely where our state is headed."
In 2001, South Carolina imported 579,000 tons of garbage. Six years later, in 2007, that figure had increased to 1.7 million tons, according to DHEC and the Congressional Research Service. In 2000, DHEC wrote, and lawmakers approved, new regulations that limit the number of landfills in the state, but the regulations also allow existing landfills to expand. That's a loophole that needs to be looked at.
Davis, a sponsor of the moratorium bill, calls waste hauled in from other states "predatory dumping" as waste companies take advantage of poor counties desperate for revenue. But there's a price to pay in smell, groundwater pollution and declining land values and quality of life.
South Carolina gets dumped on enough. There's no reason to invite more. Regulators should close loopholes that allow this to happen, and lawmakers should give them the time to do it.