Landfill Permit Action Justified

January 1, 2018

A recent ruling by the state Environmental Hearing Board upholds the Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to renew the operating permit of Keystone Sanitary Landfill. It is that final decision that should reinforce to the public that DEP remains committed to thoroughly reviewing permit applications that come before it. However, a Times-Tribune editorial in November regarding that decision (“Wolf, DEP owe explanation on Keystone,” Nov. 14) does not accurately reflect the board’s conclusion on the department’s review of Keystone’s operating permit and its final decision to renew the landfill permit. DEP, by law, must rely on environmental regulations and federal and state statutes when determining whether to renew or issue a permit. It must apply the law in its decision-making process in a fair-minded and balanced way. That is exactly what DEP did when it decided to renew Keystone’s operating permit. A team of environmental professionals, including an engineer, inspectors, a hydrogeologist and compliance staff spent months reviewing the renewal application and applied the laws when determining to renew the permit, and thus, reached a reasonable conclusion. Through its decision, the board agreed. In fact, in its opinion, the board commented that DEP “conducts a rather extensive review of renewal applications that appears entirely consistent with our articulation of our own review of permit renewals,” including a review of engineering, operations and compliance at the landfill. As with many of the permits the department reviews, there is significant local interest in the status of the landfill and divisions of opinion regarding its operation and effect on the community. In this case, a local group opposed to the landfill’s planned expansion challenged DEP’s decision, citing certain issues with odors, groundwater degradation and leachate management as examples of its concerns. To be clear, the board’s ruling rejected nearly all of these claims. The board recognized that occasional odors are likely from landfill operations, but also noted that “the real question is whether those odors are causing unreasonable degradation or deterioration of the environment and quality of life of the landfill’s neighbors.” In balancing this question, the board noted many of the steps the landfill takes, and DEP has required, to control odor. Similarly, the board determined that “Keystone’s leachate management has not been shown to have caused or threatened any demonstrable harm to the environment or public health and safety.” Ultimately, the board found that DEP did not err in renewing the permit in these regards. In its final determination, the board commented that the group challenging the permit “has not convinced us that DEP erred in finding that Keystone is willing and able to comply with the law.” The board determined that DEP’s issuance of the permit renewal for Keystone is appropriate. As with any controversial permit that DEP reviews, parties will be displeased with the outcome of DEP’s review. The department’s role in this and all permits it reviews is to call balls and strikes in enforcing the requirements of the Pennsylvania Constitution, statutes and regulations. This is precisely what the board ruled was done in this instance. DEP remains committed to assuring that all permittees, including Keystone Sanitary Landfill, continue to adhere to the conditions of its permits and follow the law as required.