Landfill settlement benefits N.H.

As attorney general for New Hampshire, I take seriously my responsibility to enforce the state’s environmental laws and to protect public health and the environment. Therefore, I think it is important for all citizens to understand my views on how a recent court-approved consent decree with North Country Environmental Services Inc. (NCES) protects the public interest, and in particular, Bethlehem’s citizens.

First, the decree imposes a significant monetary penalty. The violations alleged by the state involved NCES’ failure to detect and reject asbestos, a prohibited waste, which was allegedly brought from a hotel renovation project. The decree imposes cash penalties in excess of $100,000. The level of the cash portion of the penalty reflects the punitive nature of this enforcement action but also creates a deterrent against future violations.

Second, the decree directly benefits Bethlehem residents. In particular, cash payments made by NCES will fund environmental education programs in Bethlehem schools, among other things. The short- and long-term benefits from environmental education programs like those funded under the settlement are important to both the town and the state. 

Third, the decree requires the landfill owner to go beyond existing legal obligations in developing methods to protect against the unintended acceptance and burial of prohibited wastes. NCES must hire an engineering firm to produce a document we have called the “Waste Control Evaluation Report.” The report must assess current landfill procedures, identify any inadequacies and recommend improvements.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the agency responsible for administering the solid waste rules and permits, must approve the final report. NCES is then required to incorporate the approved improvements into landfill permits and operating plans.

Fourth, the decree goes beyond existing law by providing enhanced opportunities for public involvement. It creates a mechanism for public input to DES on the Waste Control Evaluation Report. DES has been actively soliciting comment on the draft report submitted by NCES and has provided broad public access by posting the draft report on its Web site. 

DES will take public comments into account as part of its approval process. Again, the decree requires that the approved improvements become legally binding obligations for NCES’ continued operations at the landfill.

In sum, I believe that the state achieved a great deal more than assessment of a civil penalty for violations of solid waste laws. The decree directly benefits the state and its citizens and makes public protection paramount in waste control activities at the NCES landfill.

Kelly Ayotte is attorney general of the state of New Hampshire.

Categories: Opinion