As many of you know, Teton County hauls their solid waste (garbage) to the Sublette County Landfill. One of the main reasons is that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requires that a landfill cannot impact groundwater. In Teton County it is hard to find a suitable location that does not affect groundwater. Thus the old landfill south of town was closed and now a transfer station sits there.
The State of Wyoming has been grappling with the issue of landfills impacting ground water for many years. The Federal EPA allows the Wyoming DEQ to have primacy on environmental enforcement, so long as DEQ enforces all federal laws. The Wyoming DEQ has not been enforcing the federal laws and rules on landfills impacting groundwater, so there is always the concern that EPA would step in and take away “primacy” from the DEQ. The DEQ has been trying to find an answer to how enforce the rule since the mid 1990’s.
The issue as to landfills impacting groundwater is the issue of lining (or the more technical term is “engineered containment system”). Essentially this is very expensive plastic liners laid down in the pit before the garbage is put down.
Sort of a blurry picture, but you get the concept of liners from this picture. The problem with liners is that they are very expensive. Most small communities cannot afford to put down liners. So the only real option is to create regional landfills and then truck the garbage to that regional landfill. The other option is for a landfill to prove to the DEQ that their landfill will not impact groundwater. This is also a costly endeavor because it takes a lot of money to drill multiple wells and to hire the experts to present the case that the groundwater will not be impacted.
The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill in 2006 that required all communities in Wyoming to combine with nearby communities and plan a regional landfill for each area (or decide to pursue proving to DEQ that they would not impact groundwater). As you can see below, Wyoming has quite a few landfills.
The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee met in Jackson over the last two days and one of the issues debated was how to move forward with landfill regionalization. The plans from across the state have been turned in and it appears from the testimony from DEQ that DEQ was not that impressed with some of the plans that different communities came up with. The hope was that each region would pick where their regional landfill would be and everyone else would truck to that location. Then the cost of lining the landfills would be shared by more communities, rather than just one or a few.
The other issue in regionalizing landfills is to remove recyclables from the waste stream, thus cutting down on how much tonnage needs to be trucked to the regional landfill. Teton County is leading the state in this part of this issue. Teton County pulls a lot of tonnage out of the waste stream thus cutting down on the amount that has to be trucked to Sublette County.
This will be a continuing discussion of the legislature, in particular, because the price tag of lining the regional landfills will probably end up being paid by the State, and at the present time it is estimated to cost more than $50 million.