Statement of Del. Chris Peace on Merits of Monitoring Industrial Waste

Over the last year, one of the issues most concerning to my constituents in Hanover, King William, and New Kent counties has been the recently approved permit to authorize the land application of industrial residual waste, which is comprised of natural animal wastes and pulp or paper by-product. As I have taken a close look at this issue, I crafted a solution that responds to those concerns, addresses negative environmental impacts, and keeps the burden away from local taxpayers. Among the legislation I filed this session was a measure prohibiting the use of this material in our district notwithstanding the approved state permit (HB1363). In addition, I filed legislation to empower localities whose leaders were likewise rightly concerned with the ability to employ a monitoring program- paid for by the producer of the waste, not taxpayers- similar to existing programs that monitor and test bio-solid waste (HB1364). I encourage a careful reading of the legislation This judiciously crafted legislation was strongly embraced by local county attorneys, local elected leaders and ultimately leading statewide environmental organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. With funding provided and a mechanism to stop the application of industrial waste, the unanimous appeal of this legislation was clear. Localities and individuals across the Commonwealth will benefit greatly from this legislation that finally enables a push back against the land application of such materials. Unfortunately false and misleading information has recently been published by a citizens group suggesting that the very legislation which they once stood and supported now has untoward consequences. What is most amazing is that none of those who are now concerned have had the courtesy to speak with me in person or testify in committee about the same. Instead some have sought to surreptitiously work back channels to attain opinions of the Attorney General (OAG) in hopes that he would issue an opinion in their favor. Unfortunately for their extreme and erroneous anxiety, the OAG stated that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had all the authority it needed to lawfully approve the land application of waste back in December. So one can conclude objectively that these recent arguments have no foundation in truth, logic and fall victim to the time honored admonition to legislators that they should have “read the bill."

You may ask why I am choosing to dignify this effort of bloggers and other activists with a response. The truth is that I am compelled to because I believe in my personal honor and the truth. Just like I denounced slanderous yellow signs falsely alleging my position on Medicaid expansion I similarly write in response to an less-than honest article based on crack reporting of an anonymous memorandum written by a so-called “Environmental Law Group.” This frivolous memo asserts that the Commonwealth’s DEQ has no authority under existing law to permit the land application of industrial sludge as fertilizer. The memo further suggests that legislation sponsored by Senator Rosalyn Dance in the Senate and by me in the House to authorize local governments to test and monitor the land application of industrial sludge would, somehow, grant authority to DEQ to permit the land application. Unfortunately, however, this memorandum ignores existing Virginia statutes, case law and reality. You cannot grant a power to an entity that it already enjoys.

Virginia Code Section 62.1-44.15, originally enacted in 1970, authorizes the State Water Control Board and DEQ to regulate and require permits for industrial wastes.  Pursuant to this authority, the Board and DEQ have been regulating and issuing permits for the land application as fertilizer of industrial residuals from several food and paper producers in the state.  DEQ has applied essentially the same testing and monitoring requirements for this industrial sludge as it has used for the land application of “biosolids” which are the residuals from sewage treatment plants

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that local governments cannot enact general ordinances or zoning ordinances which would prohibit or render impracticable the use of biosolids as fertilizers when it is permitted by the state. Blanton v. Amelia County, 261 Va. 55 (2001).  There are two federal district court decisions from the same time period that are in accord. Synagro-Wwt, Inc v. Louisa County, 2001 U.S. Dist.., Lexis 10987 and O’Brien v. Appomattox County, 293 F.Supp. 2d 660 (2003).  There is no basis for arguing, thinking or hoping that the result would be different for the land application of industrial sludge as fertilizer.

In spite of this minority viewpoint of our legislative efforts, I remain committed to constituent concerns that not enough is known about the long term environmental impacts of the land application of industrial waste. To that end, I am also a co-patron of HJ 506 which requires a detailed and specific scientific study, by agencies other than DEQ, of the long term impacts of the land application of both biosolids and industrial sludge.  The bill to prohibit land application of industrial waste in the three counties I represent unfortunately failed in committee.  The other two bills passed both Houses of the General Assembly and will go to the Governor for signature. In light of the previously approved permit, this result is the best possible. For anyone to suggest that we should not monitor something already state approved to be applied to land is uninformed at best and insincere at worst. This issue is important for all Virginians, and it deserves to be reported responsibly. Rolling Stone proves that you should always consider the source.