The Shoosmith landfill in Chesterfield in August 2020. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)
Virginia taxpayers have been putting millions every year toward the permitting and inspection of landfills and other facilities that handle nonhazardous solid waste.
Now, a bill sent to the governor’s desk would increase the fees waste operators have to pay with the goal of covering the state’s expenses.
“It just makes the landfill program self-sufficient so you’re not using general fund tax dollars to pay for landfill enforcement,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, during a February subcommittee meeting on the bill, which he carried.
Unusually, the waste industry, whose companies would pay for the fee increases, is supporting the hikes.
In a March 4 letter to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia Waste Industries Association Chair Jennifer Johnson urged the governor to sign the bill, saying that the increased funding would allow the Department of Environmental Quality to carry out waste facility permitting in a timely fashion and “address issues before they become problems.”
“We understand that you campaigned to streamline government and not to burden individuals with more expenses than they need, and we support you as you fulfill that promise,” wrote Johnson. “We believe these annual permit fees are an environmental win for Virginia and not a tax issue.”
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said Youngkin “continues to review the legislation.”
Virginia has charged waste companies permit fees for facilities like landfills since 1992 and an annual fee since 2004. More than a decade ago, at the direction of the General Assembly, the Virginia Waste Management Board bumped up the fees after the legislature cut the state’s solid waste program budget. Lawmakers, however, prohibited the new payments from exceeding 60 percent of the program’s costs.
The most recent push to have waste fees cover DEQ’s costs of “permitting, compliance, inspection, monitoring, training and enforcement” for nonhazardous solid waste stemmed from 2020 legislation put forward by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City.
An early draft of Petersen’s bill would have ensured that the permit and annual fees paid by waste operators would cover “the total direct costs” of DEQ’s nonhazardous solid waste program.
The proposal was later revised to call for a work group to examine how the fees should best be designed to cover the agency’s costs.
“The program needs to be better funded,” then-DEQ Director David Paylor told a Senate panel.
The resulting work group, which included numerous waste industry representatives, local government officials and a member of the environmental group Keep Prince William Beautiful, found a significant gap between program costs and the revenues DEQ took in from annual fees.
In fiscal year 2021, annual fees for solid waste operators totaled roughly $2.9 million, while program costs were roughly $6.8 million.
The work group recommended a series of changes to existing fees that would increase revenues to more than $6.7 million annually.
The legislation brought by Surovell this session would adopt those recommendations and automatically adjust fees annually to reflect changes in the consumer price index.
“The fees represented in the bill are exactly what the industry worked out with DEQ,” Surovell told a House subcommittee Feb. 23.
Chuck Duvall, a lobbyist for both the Virginia Waste Industries Association and the Waste Management company that operates 40 facilities across Virginia, told lawmakers at the same hearing that the industry had “made a commitment and we stand behind our commitment.”
“If we have a bad actor, we want to take care of the bad actors, because if [we] don’t, your phones are going to start ringing, and we know what’s going to happen on our end,” he said. “You’re going to call us, and these fees that we have here might be minimal compared to what we might be faced with down the road.”
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