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Harms/Benefits Landfill Test Requirements

Harrisburg, PA - The Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association (PWIA) said it was disappointed by a Commonwealth Court decision upholding the controversial use of a "harms/benefits" test for landfill permit applications. Commonwealth Court upheld an earlier decision by the state Environmental Hearing Board that DEP's establishment of the harms/benefits test was a "valid and constitutional exercise of the authority granted to the agency" under the Solid Waste Management Act and the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act.

David J. Brooman, a partner with the law firm of Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP who serves as special counsel to PWIA, urged the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to take steps to spell out specific requirements of the harms/benefits test so applicants know what to expect. "The harms/benefits test is so vague that permit applicants have no way of knowing what is expected or whether they would have a reasonable chance of obtaining a permit."

Brooman said his client is weighing its options. DEP regulations require applicants for landfill permits to demonstrate that the social and economic benefits would clearly outweigh any environmental harms.

PWIA, which represents private-sector waste haulers and landfill operators in Pennsylvania, filed a friend-of-the-court brief after two of its members were denied permits last year under the harms/benefits test. Alliance Sanitary Landfill's application for expansion of an existing landfill in Lackawanna County was rejected. An application by Tri-County Industries for expansion of an existing landfill in Mercer County was turned down as well.

PWIA President Thomas E. McMonigle suggested that however the legal proceeding ultimately turns out, it was time for DEP and the waste industry to move toward a more cooperative working relationship.

"For the last several years, DEP has taken an adversarial stance in its dealings with our industry," he said. "With a new administration now in place, we are hopeful that we can build a more cooperative and more productive relationship. We perform a demanding, essential task, and we try to do it safely, efficiently, and with due regard to protecting the environment."