State cracks down on compost operations

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(Host) The state is cracking down on two large-scale composting operations, and the legal actions may force both to shut down.

But some critics complain of selective enforcement when it comes to pollution under Act 250 in Vermont.

They cite problems at the Omya corporation’s landfills in Pittsford.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) A federal judge recently found that chemicals leaking from Omya’s landfills in Pittsford are a public health threat.

A chemical used to process calcium carbonate has been linked to birth defects.

In that case, the state is working on an agreement that would allow Omya to operate the landfills for at least another two years.

Meanwhile, critics are pointing to the state’s action on a Montpelier compost company. It has been told to shut down and pay an $18,000 fine because it’s allegedly operating without an Act 250 permit. 

Annette Smith is with Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an environmental group that works with Pittsford residents against Omya.

She says the state should apply the same standard to Omya as it has to the compost company – and shut down the leaking landfills.

(Smith) So why it’s okay for a multinational corporation to pollute the groundwater and use a toxic substance and continue to use a toxic substance in their process that has migrated off site and not take any action while going after the composters who do not seem to have any environmental impact is really wrong.

(Dillon) John Hasen is legal counsel for the Natural Resources Board, the panel that oversees Act 250, the state land use law.

Hasen says Omya has an Act 250 permit, and he says that he’s not aware of any violations. Hasen says the board tries to implement the law fairly.

(Hasen) And I think that’s a fair question: why should we be going after one business when we don’t go after another business. .. Entirely fair. We try to go after and we try to bring enforcement actions after any operation that we think is in violation of Act 250. We can’t hit them all.

(Dillon) A commercial compost operation in Burlington’s Intervale also faces a state environmental enforcement action.

Tom Moreau is manager of the Chittenden Solid Waste District, which sends tons of organic waste to the Intervale.

He says he’s worked for three decades with state regulators, and hasn’t seen much flexibility on the compost issue.

(Moreau) I would say the cooperation I have seen with this particular issue has been less than any time in my career.

(Dillon) Moreau is trying to negotiate a settlement with the attorney general’s office. Meanwhile, the Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier says it will challenge the state’s shutdown order in court.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.



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