What an amazing, poignant, and thought-provoking piece by Pat Clark. These are the issues that we care about and the questions that need to be answered. Well done, Pat!
Keystone Sanitary Landfill’s proposed expansion is all about the green —
whether cash or the environment.
Those two sides are often diametrically opposed. Industrialists often paint environmentalists as
anti-job-creation tree-huggers. Environmentalists like to cast industrialists as scorched-earth
But in the case of a landfill seeking to become the tallest structure in our area and expand its lifespan by another two generations, the issue is the same — protecting our environment protects our economy.
The issue is about cementing Northeast Pennsylvania’s reputation as the East Coast dumping ground or reversing it. It’s about protecting our health or rolling the dice to see how a 475-foot-high pile of garbage and fracking waste might impact our children’s lives. It’s about seizing control of our future or continuing the cycle of short-term gain at the expense of long-term viability.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will approve of deny the expansion. While the notion of protection is found within the agency’s name, the framework by which it will evaluate Keystone’s expansion may not support its mission.
A key section of an expansion application is known as the benefits and harms analysis. Here, the applicant lists all the benefits an expansion would provide and harms that it could cause. The DEP balances the two and the applicant must demonstrate clearly that the benefits of the project clearly outweigh the known and potential harms.
Reading though the application exposes the cracks in the foundation of the evaluation process and raises serious questions:
■ Why are the benefits — payroll, equipment purchases, host municipality agreements — monetarily quantified while the value every single harm remains undetermined? Why aren’t the potential costs of an environmental disaster calculated — or even mentioned?
■ Why so long? DEP typically grants permits for 10 years. This application seeks up to 46.5 years. With something this sensitive, shouldn’t we encourage conservatism at every opportunity we can?
■ Do property values matter? Keystone states that “it is unlikely that continued operation …will result in any depreciation of the market purchase value of homes in the vicinity ...” However, studies show that landfills that accept more than 500 tons of waste per day decrease adjacent residential property values by an average of 13.7 percent.
If this expansion is approved, the state will receive more than $500 million in increased fees from Keystone over the expansion time frame. Can the DEP, a state entity, fairly evaluate this application when Pennsylvania stands to receive more than $6 for each ton of garbage Keystone receives?
By law, a landfill must pay a host municipality a minimum amount for each ton of garbage accepted. Since 1988, the state-mandated minimum fee has not changed. And since 1988, Keystone has not paid Dunmore any more than that minimum.
However, at times of expansion, landfills seek to show the DEP they are friendly neighbors. So, Keystone has been negotiating with Dunmore for the first time in more than 25 years. It recently offered a contract with no end date and after the expansion, increases its payments to Dunmore by the princely sum of one penny, per ton, per year.
Any 50-year contract is questionable on its face. A 50-year contract with virtually no increases in fees is absurd. In fact, in current dollars, Dunmore would receive less during the last year of the proposed agreement than it receives today.
Unfortunately, Dunmore is left to consider whatever take-it-or-leave-it offer the landfill makes.
Each year, the Environmental Protection Agency produces a report on waste generation, recycling and disposal. These reports show that the amount of garbage each person produces is decreasing. Recycling is increasing. If there’s less overall garbage produced, why the need for additional landfill space? We already have a second landfill in Lackawanna County that reportedly has over three decades of space remaining.
An expansion would allow Keystone to continue to take in even more out-of-state garbage. It would also allow Keystone to take in more fracking waste containing radioactive elements. The former will expand our reputation as the Northeast’s dumping ground. The latter could have a disastrous effect on our environment.
Tying our area’s reputation to garbage for another half-century is unwise policy, both economically and environmentally. Our area deserves better. We need to stop sabotaging ourselves by doubling down on antiquated and harmful industry. We have already done our part.
Enough is enough.