DEC Should Enforce the Rules

by Tom Ellis

New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos responded to a March 4 Albany Times Union editorial with a letter to the editor ten days later.

The editorial titled, “Weak fines, weak message,” strongly criticized the DEC’s “spotty record on cracking down on local environmental violations.” Specifically discussed were the Colonie Landfill, the Port of Coeymans, and the Dunn construction and demolition (C&D) debris landfill in Rensselaer.

The editorial stated: “To be a useful compliance tool, fines need to be high enough to make following the rules the less painful option — not so low that they can be written of as a cost of doing business…..tough fines should accompany a tough regulatory approach that, if it errs, errs on the side of caution. In Colonie, where DEC has levied $40,000 in fines against the town and its landfill operator over stormwater violations, the agency is accused of downplaying risks to the Mohawk River in approving the dump’s expansion…The DEC needs to strictly enforce the rules…The people of New York need DEC to fight aggressively for our environment. If a business shows itself willing to push against the regulations that keep our communities safe, DEC must push back with all it’s got.”

In his letter, Commissioner Seggos said the editorial “seriously misses the mark…Our agency does everything within its power to ensure solid waste management facilities operate safely, legally and with minimal local impacts.” He insisted the Colonie and Dunn landfills “operate pursuant to strict permits, which DEC issued on the basis of a thorough environmental review and full consideration of public input.”

This final statement can easily be proven false. Last year DEC approved a giant expansion of the Colonie Landfill after ignoring for more than a year, and then denying, repeated requests from the towns of Waterford and Halfmoon, that DEC conduct a formal adjudicatory hearing at which the applicant and opponents would each submit expert testimony, cross examine each other in public under oath, establish the facts for all to see, and assure a much more transparent review than DEC wanted. DEC then granted the expansion despite the landfill being on the Mohawk River bank, and atop a large unlined hazardous waste dump that leaks who knows what into the river. Waterford and Halfmoon, and their residents, did not obtain “a thorough environmental review and full consideration of public input.”

As for the Port of Coeymans, the editorial noted the port’s owner had expanded “his C&D business without state approval, after he was warned repeatedly not to.” Why does DEC not impose large daily fines and/or suspend or revoke the port’s permits to force it into compliance?

Rensselaer residents spoke at a 2012 DEC public hearing in opposition to the then-proposed Dunn Landfill. They identified many of the problems now occurring such as the far too close proximity of the dump to the Rensselaer public school, odors, noise, dust, dirt, diesel exhaust, and the immense tractor trailer truck traffic that terrorizes Rensselaer’s Partition Street residents DEC renewed the landfill permit in 2017 without holding public hearings and now says it my not hold hearings in 2022 when the permit next comes up for renewal. How can there be a “full consideration of public input” without public hearings?

Landfill owners and critics can see that DEC, despite having many excellent employees who want to protect the environment, is a paper tiger.

Rensselaer and East Greenbush residents are enlarging and professionalizing their coalition that is determined to force closure of the Dunn Landfill this Spring.




Published in April/May 2019
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