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#57 - New Jersey's Governor Solves The State's Garbage Crisis, Sending It To Pennsylvania, 27-Dec-1987

For two decades, New Jersey has been on the frontier of the garbage
crisis. The state legislature started closing landfills a decade ago
because landfills pollute groundwater and because there's no practical
way to keep hazardous waste out of them. The legislature intended
incinerators to spring up in each of the state's 21 counties, and NJ
now has 17 mass burners on the drawing boards, but local opposition and
bureaucratic delays have prevented startup of even a single
incinerator. A state-wide recycling bill passed the legislature in 1987
but it will take time (and political will) to implement. In the
meantime, push has come to shove; in late 1987, two major landfills
closed, leaving 3.7 million NJ citizens--half the state's population--
with no place to put their trash. Governor Tom Kean, a Republican with
vice-Presidential hopes, desperately needed a solution or at least the
APPEARANCE of a solution.

In the summer of 1987, Governor Kean found a friend in Pennsylvania. As
a result, New Jersey is starting the new year shipping half its garbage
to landfills in western Pennsylvania, most of them 300 miles from New
Jersey.

Governor Kean's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has forced
(or helped, depending on who you talk to) New Jersey's six northern
counties to build trash transfer stations and to make contracts with
out-of-state trash haulers. The Chambers Development Company of Penn
Hills, PA (near Pittsburgh) made a deal to take New Jersey's garbage
for three to five years. It's a lucrative business: Chambers will be
paid $92 to $116 per ton for hauling New Jersey's garbage, and they
plan to take 6000 tons per day; at $100 per ton that's $600,000 per
day, or $220 million per year.

The contracts to take New Jersey's trash represent a tremendous boon
for Chambers, whose total sales in 1986 were only $31 million. Chambers
currently operates four landfills in western Pennsylvania. The company
also hauls trash in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and
Alabama. Chambers also has a wholly owned subsidiary called Security
Bureau, Inc., which provides uniformed guard service, special event
security, crisis management, loss prevention and investigative
(detective) services--a curious mix of enterprises. Chambers is a
family-owned business. Though it is traded publicly, 70% of Chambers
stock is owned by the family of J. G. Rangos, Sr. The company's Vice
President is M.J. Peretto.

Pennsylvania has only 30 landfills operating in the state, and these
will be filled within five years, according to the Department of
Environmental Resources (DER). The influx of New Jersey's garbage will
cut the remaining lifetime of Pennsylvania's landfills to 2.5 years,
says a spokesperson for the DER (Harrisburg PATRIOT NEWS Aug. 6, 1987).
If this is true, it means that New Jersey has not bought itself as much
time as it thought: Chambers has 5-year contracts with some New Jersey
counties. Where will Chambers put New Jersey's garbage when
Pennsylvania's existing landfills are full?

Shortly after Chambers and New Jersey made their well-publicized
contracts, a small Pennsylvania landfill operator less than 60 miles
from the New Jersey border applied to the DER for an expansion permit
for a small dump in Foster Township. Beltrami Enterprises owns a 3300-
acre parcel of land in Foster Township and its owner, Louis Beltrami,
naturally sees an opportunity here. Mr. Beltrami anticipates that he
can generate $23.25 million the first year of operation, even if he
restricts his business to Pennsylvania garbage. But his application
clearly states that he intends to take garbage from anyone who's
willing to pay. New Jersey would certainly rather pay to send its
garbage 60 miles than 300 miles, so it looks like Foster Township,
Pennsylvania, is being offered as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of
New Jersey's political failures. And Mr. Beltrami stands to get rich
quick--really rich really quick.

Unfortunately, the proposed site for Mr. Beltrami's landfill is
geologically comparable to Swiss cheese. The area (called Buck
Mountain) is honeycombed with old coal mine shafts. Furthermore,
according to available geologic reports, the rock formations are
heavily fractured and fault lines run through the site. The aquifers
underlying the site provide drinking water to local families, so
groundwater pollution would be a serious matter. The surface of the
site contains large sinkholes where the surface has simply dropped out
of sight. It is probably as bad a place as one could pick for a large
landfill.

Local citizens are fighting the proposal. SOLE II in Weatherly, PA, and
Concerned Citizens of Foster Township don't want Foster Township to
become the garbage capital of the east coast. Mr. Beltrami has tried to
buy acceptance for his scheme: he has offered Foster Township 2% of his
profits right off the top ($465,000 per year, even if he keeps the
operation small and only takes in $23.25 million per year)--a princely
sum for a small town. In response, local politicians amended the local
zoning ordinance to accommodate Mr. Beltrami. Citizens responded by
running their own candidate for town council, and winning. The sense of
power that local people gain is a real, permanent benefit from a fight
like this. And gaining a sense of how things really work is also
invaluable: in modern America, issues of good and evil boil down to
technology and money intertwined in a struggle that is, at bottom,
political. The winners are usually a few entrepreneurs and a few
politicians. The losers are usually all the people. But it doesn't have
to be that way. In the same way local people in Foster elected one of
their own to office, people everywhere can choose their fate, if they
will get serious, get to work, and organize.

The root cause of the garbage crisis is the unwillingness of government
to intervene in industrial decisions. Municipal solid waste is
hazardous to human health and is therefore unwelcome in any community
of alert citizens. Until government takes steps to reduce the use of
toxic materials, to detoxify the solid waste stream at its source,
garbage will be a large and dangerous problem. And where there are
large problems, there are large opportunities for self-interested
business people and self-serving politicians to engage in shell games.
Tom Kean evidently believes he can dazzle the people with fancy
footwork, so he won't have to face the real issue. Messrs. Rangos,
Peretto and Beltrami simply intend to get rich. The serious losers are
the people who pay vastly inflated prices for public services (the cost
of garbage in Newark, NJ, will increase from $6 million in 1987 to $30
million in 1988--a rise of $200 per family) and the people forced to
live with the inevitable consequences of pollution. Recycling is part
of the answer, but even after an item has been recycled three or four
times, it will be discarded. Whether it is safe to discard is the
issue, and that is a question to be answered by peering inside
America's industrial enterprise. Are there any politicians on the scene
with the will to do that? If not, let's get organized and put some
there. That's a new year's resolution worth making.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: msw; landfilling; incineration; recycling; thomas
kean; pa; chambers development; transfer stations; nc; sc; ga; al;
louis beltrami;