Our Editorial: Keep landfills from making a stink

The Detroit News

Let’s be honest. Who wants a landfill in their backyard? Residents are right to be concerned if they live near one, as poorly run facilities can affect their property values and quality of life. So some additional regulations to ensure landfills play by the rules are appropriate.

A bill that would raise fines on landfills when state regulations are violated is one such reasonable measure. The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, would increase the amount of fines for first and second violations of the waste management law to $25,000 and $75,000 a day — up from $10,000 and $25,000, respectively.

Landfills are a necessity, but that doesn’t give their owners an excuse to operate shoddy facilities or cut corners on safety.

“When a landfill is operated the way it should be, you can’t tell it’s there,” Pscholka says.

The lawmaker says his bill was precipitated by ongoing problems with a landfill in his district. Over the past few years, there have been numerous complaints about its operation — most common is the noxious odor that often permeates the neighborhoods near the facility. The owners have addressed some problems but not others.

Higher fines may not completely solve the odor and other problems at landfills but they could act as motivation for the facilities to be better neighbors, especially when their operations affect residents and businesses.

Such organizations as the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Association of Counties oppose the bill. Their spokespeople claim the fines are too high and could adversely affect a local community’s fragile budget.

That’s why, if the communities are going to be in the landfill business, they need to take the necessary steps to quickly resolve problems or better yet, prevent them from happening.

Also, many communities receive stipends from landfills operating within their borders. So it’s understandable they may want to protect their revenue source.

But, as Pscholka notes, “If they’re playing by the rules, (landfills) shouldn’t have to worry.”

John Craig, chief of enforcement for landfills for the Department of Environmental Quality says landfills are inspeced quarterly, or whenever a citizen complaint is received. Operators have 15 to 30 days to correct problems.

Raising the fines should help spur landfill operators to monitor and run their facilities responsibly.