SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative proposal would allow Utah’s 168 landfills to do self-inspections in an attempt to increase sagging oversight without raising taxes to fund increased inspections.
The House Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee took a liking to the proposal on Thursday, but environmental groups are opposing the self-inspections, the Salt Lake Tribune reported .
Scott Williams, executive director of environmental group HEAL Utah, said the “concept of a regulated entity doing ‘self-inspection’ is a conflict of interest.”
Republican state Rep. Lee Perry is sponsoring the proposal, saying the state agency responsible for inspections doesn’t always handle them in a timely manner.
“We found we had waste facilities that weren’t inspected — some hadn’t been inspected for six years,” Perry said.
In the same time period, another landfill had been inspected 28 times, Perry said.
Scott Baird, a deputy director at Department of Environmental Quality, said he is in favor of any plan that would boost efficiency in his department to reduce costs to industry, but he disputed claims that the Division of Waste Management has allowed landfills to go years without inspections.
Baird said some facilities were inspected more than others because they pose a higher public health risk.
Many waste-storage facilities have complained about the lack of inspections, he said.
“They’re saying, ‘We’re not being inspected, but we’re paying fees for it,’ ” Perry said.
Originally, Utah planned to fund state inspectors through fees charged to landfills and other waste facilities. But legislators diverted cash raised through some of these fees — roughly $400,000 a year — to the state general fund.
Perry said that left regulators underfunded and unable to afford new technologies to make their operations more efficient. His proposal calls for returning half of the $400,000 to the Division of Waste Management that was diverted.
It also calls for creating an electronic inspections system that either the division, or the landfills themselves, could use to verify compliance.
Lindsay Beebe, with the environmental group Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, echoed Williams’ concerns.
“Letting owners of solid waste landfills conduct their own inspections is like letting the fox look over the chicken coop,” Beebe said. “This begs the question of who are our decisions makers trying to protect? The community or private companies?”
Committee members voted unanimously to send the proposal to the full House for further debate.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com