Alert 667: Delaware DNREC seeks to weaken waste regulations

Agency thinks this requirement is “redundant:”

No new cell of an industrial landfill shall be located in an area … that is environmentally unique or valuable.”

“Public Hearing” on August 20th in Dover at 6:00 pm (details below)

How to help:

Send comments to Governor Markell and DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara and your state senator and representative:
(1)   Don’t remove protections from environmentally unique and valuable areas
(2)   Strengthen Delaware’s waste regulations to deal with the real problems.
Send copies to

and to Green Delaware.

The Markell administration’s information lockdown
“One Big Dump?”

It’s no secret that Delaware’s 1954 square miles of land are polluted by hundreds of Superfund sites, “brownfields,” garbage dumps, leaking tanks, coal ash dumps, and other decorations.  (536 square miles of Delaware are water and, this, of course, is also polluted.)  These problems exist all over the state.

As a result, much of the “groundwater” under Delaware, as well as our “surface waters,” are loaded with health damaging, often cancer-causing, pollutants.  (Contamination also results from “non-point” sources such as harmful pesticides and fertilizers dumped on fields and residential lawns.)

(Near-surface groundwater–that is, water between the grains of solid materials making up soil, sand, etc–mixes with “surface waters” in rivers and streams.  In dry weather, groundwater flows into streams, in wet weather, the streams “recharge” the groundwater.  This means that surface waters can’t be cleaned up without also cleaning up the groundwater, and vice versa.)

The main responsibility for fixing all this lies with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), which has almost entirely failed to get the job done.  Much of the real fault lies with Delaware’s elected officials, who commonly take sides with developers, property owners, and industrial polluters wanting cheap fictional cleanups rather than expensive, real ones.  This includes Governor Jack Markell, who in his campaign materials endorsed “streamlining” cleanups.

Cleaning up contaminated groundwater is difficult and expensive, but not impossible.  Stopping ongoing and new contamination is a no-brainer.  Neither are getting done in Delaware.

A long history of regulatory and political failure

Green Delaware has written over and over again about Delaware’s failures in this area.  For example: Alert 392: Toxic backyards for Delaware kids? , Alert 359: Minner administration excludes public from “Brownfields ” redevelopment , Alert 296: dumping Metachem wastes on Mexico? , Alert 571: Public hearing Sept 12: help stop the “daylight dumping” at Pigeon Point , Alert #261: Closed Pigeon Pont landfill reopened to dumping of sewage sludge , Alert 634: “Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards” , Alert 393: Giant pile of poison to be left on banks of Delaware River as a gift to future generations .

Regulations getting worse, not better;  Public input blocked

Delaware regularly makes minor changes to its waste regulations, usually to create new loopholes benefiting special interests.  Suggestions from the public aren’t welcome.

Green Delaware participated in a public hearing on October 22, 2007.   Our two reps were the only members of the public to attend.  Read the official transcript.

A few excerpts [emphasis in red added by Green Delaware]:

[Alan Muller]
But the reason I am here, ladies and
3    gentlemen, is that in the history of Green Delaware,
4    which goes back to 1994, we have had rather many
5    controversies and discussions involving the management
6    of waste in Delaware, and there are a lot of what seem
7    to me to be open issues.
8             For instance, the issue of the emanations of
9    material ­ I am trying to use a general term and not a
10    term of art ­ from the DuPont Edgemoor Plant and
11    whether or not that material is or is not something
12    that should be considered a hazardous waste, and what I
13    am getting at is when I read through these things, none
14    of the changes that you are proposing seem to me to
15    address what, in my experience, have been open issues
16    regarding the management of hazardous waste in
17    Delaware.
18             I really don’t think that used oil container
19    closure ­ And I mean that’s fine, but we have a
20    facility in Edgemoor that’s now discharging about
21    150,000 tons a year of waste, loaded with arsenic,
22    cadmium, dioxin, uranium, thorium, all kinds of
23    unpleasant materials, and there is a big controversy
24    over whether a pile of that should be left by the side
1    of the Delaware River.
2             Meanwhile, all that stuff is being sent to an
3    ordinary garbage dump in Lee County, South Carolina,
4    with no regulation at all from DNREC.
5            So I think that the waste regulations are in
6    need of some substantial change to address and clarify
7    some of the waste issues that Delaware is struggling
8    with, and I don’t see any indication of that in here.
9             And I don’t mean to be quarrelsome about it,
10    because it looks to me as if you have kind of looked at
11    the regulations through a microscope in proposing these
12    changes, but I want to suggest that the solid and
13    hazardous waste branch ought to take a wider look at
14    what’s going on.
15             And, very candidly, a very high percentage of
16    the scandals and controversies that we have got in
17    Delaware have got to do with waste management.
18             You know, just last week Bob Haynes conducted
19    a hearing on the Pigeon Point garbage dump, and
20    although that would be considered primarily a matter
21    for the solid rather than the hazardous waste
22    regulations, hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash
23    are coming in there every year from out of state, and
24    the EPA has a proceeding going on now, which I will put
1    into the record, and the issue there is that although
2    coal ash is not now regulated, it is, in fact, nasty
3    stuff, it’s full of hazardous constituents, and I heard
4    a lot of testimony from a variety of people who are
5    very upset that this material is being hauled into
6    Delaware and put on a dump that’s supposedly closed.
7    It’s being done under pretext.

Does that mean that you don’t want to hear
21    testimony on whether these regulations meet the needs
22    of Delaware?
23             MS. VEST [Hearing Officer] :  No, it means that this hearing is
24    exclusive tonight just to receive comment and questions
1    regarding the proposed amendments to the regulations at
2    issue.

In other words, only the change proposed by the DNREC were allowed to be discussed.

The numerous DNREC staffers present could not or would not give meaningful answers to our questions.  Need we say that our testimony was ignored and only the DNREC-proposed changes were made?

In 2008 Delawareans opposed expansion of a coal ash dump for NRG’s Indian River Power Plant.  They said it would violate that part of Delaware’s solid waste regulations saying:

6.1.3 No new cell of an industrial landfill shall be located in an area such that solid waste would at any time be deposited:
[…] In an area that is environmentally unique or valuable.

Delaware officials ignored the people, and their own regulations, and issued the permit.  DNREC lawyers used dishonorable tactics to try to block an appeal by Bill Zak, claiming that … The term “substantially affected” does not include the interests of Delaware citizens in the preservation of publicly owned resources.”

Now DNREC is proposing to remove this section from their regulations. Official proposed changes.

Upcoming public hearing

A public hearing is scheduled for August 20, 2008, at 6:00 pm, at DNREC’s Richardson and Robbins Building, 89 Kings Highway in Dover.  Need we tell you that DNREC’s press release is deceptive, stating “The hearing will address four proposed amendments that will update the state’s solid waste regulations and help improve regulatory understanding and implementation. The proposed amendments: 1) remove one redundant requirement for siting new industrial landfill cells; ….” Apparently, for the DNREC, protecting “environmentally unique or valuable” areas is “redundant.”

Also deceptive is the statement “To register for the public hearing, contact Tara Clark at (302) 739-9403.” This may give the impression that pre-registration is required.  It isn’t.

How to help:

Send comments to Governor Markell and DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara and your state senator and representative:

(1)   Don’t remove protections from environmentally unique and valuable areas; and
(2)   Strengthen Delaware’s waste regulations to deal with the real problems

Send copies to

and to Green Delaware.

Governor Markell’s information lockdown

Green Delaware didn’t officially endorse Jack Markell, but we sent out many emails favorable to him.  One reason is that Markell repeatedly said he’d run “the most open administration” ever in Delaware.

Through the administrations of Governor’s Carper and Minner we were always able to talk to DNREC staff .  Now, when we call the Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch we are automatically transferred to the public relations office.  Sometimes we’ve been told that DNREC had to get permission from the Governor’s office to talk to us.  Why?  Markell’s people want to control the flow of information to the media and the public.  These obstacles aren’t impossible to penetrate, but they obstruct our work and our reporting.

A Freedom of Information Act Request to DNREC got us a letter from a Markell lawyer with a Bush-like claim of “Executive Privilege.”

We owe our readers an apology for our support of Markell.  We got snookered.

Alan Muller

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