Legislators have questions about industrial waste landfill

A state environmental official Tuesday stood by the decision to permit a north Baton Rouge landfill but indicated issues raised could bring new regulations.

“I am confident in our decision. I would make it again,” said Sam Phillips, assistant secretary at the state Department of Environmental Quality. “There was only one decision that made logical sense.”

But later, under intense questioning by legislators, Phillips said the situation made DEQ “very aware” about the need to work on how it determines available landfill capacity in an area. The agency wants to meet with environmental groups and industry representatives to establish some regulations, he said.

Opponents of the proposed landfill in north Baton Rouge claim the area has enough “capacity” to handle waste without granting Louisiana Land Acquisitions’ application for another industrial waste landfill.

Industrial waste is nonhazardous, unwanted or residual materials arising from commercial, industrial or trade activities.

Legislators also questioned DEQ’s decision, citing the existing landfill’s capacity as well as one in Livingston Parish that can expand.

Phillips said the landfill on Brooklawn Drive off Scenic Highway could not be counted because it accepts industrial waste only on a case-by-case basis. He said the Livingston Parish facility’s capacity could not be counted because the parish is outside the geographical area Louisiana Land Acquisition planned to serve with the new landfill.

Senate Environmental Committee members expressed surprise that the applicant dictated the service area and DEQ simply went along.

“The department has no control over that in your regulations,” responded committee chairman state Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe.

“Y’all don’t have a grid that has these service areas laid out,” added state Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston.

Erdey said Louisiana Land Acquisitions’ application said it would accept industrial waste from East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Iberville and Ascension parishes. “Livingston is closer in proximity than some of these other sites,” he said.

“We have learned something that maybe we can do … to close some loopholes we have got,” Walsworth said.

Kathy Wascom, a lobbyist for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, said her group supports the north Baton Rouge neighborhoods, which she said are “extremely overburdened” with waste sites.

Wascom said the entity seeking the permit should not be able to tell DEQ what area it will cover. “That’s something the Legislature can fix,” she said. “There is capacity over in Livingston Parish.”

Wascom also noted that there is a transfer station that ships waste to Mississippi. She wondered if that had been taken into account.

State Sen. Sharon Broome, who represents the affected north Baton Rouge area, pointedly expressed disapproval of the DEQ decision.

“The voices of the opponents certainly were weighty,” said Broome, D-Baton Rouge. “We already have how many landfills in that area. Two. … It is a belief from DEQ those landfills are not enough.”

Broome said the north Baton Rouge area has been “inundated with environmental challenges” and those “unique circumstances” should have been taken into account.

Broome noted a pending city-parish lawsuit challenging the permit award. “Have you ever rescinded a permit award?” she asked.

“I would think it would be through the legal process,” P hillips responded .

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter , @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.