Vote on Bill to Close Oil & Gas Industry’s Hazardous Waste Loophole Skipped Over in Closing Hours of Legislative Session

ALBANY, June 21, 2019 — A bill to close the oil and gas industry’s hazardous waste loophole died early this morning when the state Legislature adjourned for the 2019 session without bringing the measure to a final vote.EnglebrightMaypdf

The legislation (A2655), which easily passed the state Senate on June 3, had overwhelming support in the Assembly and had been on that chamber’s list for debate and final vote since June 17.

“This is disappointing,” said Elizabeth Moran, environmental policy director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “I want to believe it was primarily a question of timing. There were a lot of bills on that debate list.

“Sadly, a dangerous practice is now going to continue for at least another year.”

NYPIRG and other environmental groups have criticized New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation for failing to systematically analyze and track dangerous wastes produced by natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania that are exported to landfills in New York’s Southern Tier.PATruckspdf

Under current law, the special regulations that apply to hazardous waste produced by New York industries do not apply to oil and gas wastes, even if they meet objective criteria that trigger the regulations for the other industries

The bill would require oil and gas wastes to be treated like waste from any other industry. That means Pennsylvania fracking wastes would be subject to testing at drilling sites before being trucked to New York, and the DEC would track those shipments.

For a decade, supporters of fracking for natural gas, in particular, have been fighting to hold on to the exemption amid growing opposition.

Dating back to 2009, Republicans in the state Senate had repeatedly blocked bills aimed at repealing the exemption. But after Democrats won back control of that chamber last November, sentiment on the bill switched dramatically. It passed 45-17.LizMoran

“Senate is now a willing partner,” Moran said. “That totally changes the game.”

Votes in Assembly committees this session showed similar overwhelming support.

The Assembly bill was sponsored by Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket), chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse).

Environmental Advocates of New York, NYPIRG, Earthworks, the Sierra Club and other groups supported the legislation.

“Closing the hazardous waste loophole for oil and gas waste protects against toxic fracking waste entering into our landfills, municipal water treatment plants, and eventually, our waterways,” EANY said in a memo supporting the bill.

Fracking waste’s exemption from regulation as hazardous material is particularly important to three Southern Tier landfills operated by Casella Waste Systems: the Chemung County Landfill, Hakes C&D Landfill and Hyland Landfill.Casella

Casella and the DEC assert that the landfills only accept relatively environmentally benign “drill cuttings,” the rocks extracted from the vertical section of a horizontally drilled fracking operation. 

But Pennsylvania records of shipments to New York show tens of thousands of barrels of liquid fracking waste, which is commonly found to be laced with corrosive salts, heavy metals and radioactive materials.

The DEC is currently considering an application by Casella to expand the Hakes Landfill. The Sierra Club and others are suing the DEC to try to block the expansion, citing evidence of radioactive elements in the landfill’s leachate.

A spokesman for Casella did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment on the hazardous waste bill.

2 Comments

  1. Peter, Thanks for writing about this. Did Assemblyman Engelbright not push for a vote because passage was in doubt or because other issues had more priority? John Dennis

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  2. No one I talked to was sure why a bill with such widespread support failed to get called up during the final week (most of which it spent on the Assembly’s floor debate calendar, poised for passage). There are lots of ways to intentionally kill a bill and plenty of ways to hide who did it. I tried to talk to Englebright and his staff, without success, so I can’t tell how hard he was pushing for it. Sometimes the Assembly is just overwhelmed by the crush of legislation it tries to tackle in the closing hours and important things get left undone. But if I had to bet, I’d say death came by murder rather than accident.

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