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Friday, February 23, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Once again, Austin’s landfill criteria is back in discussion

Nobody wants their backyard to become a landfill.

For nearly a year, Austin Resource Recovery has been redesigning the landfill criteria matrix that refuse companies will have to abide by going forward. Problem is, it seems that staff is caught in the crossfire between ratepayers and waste companies and nobody can come to a consensus.

At the Feb. 14 Zero Waste Advisory Commission meeting, Chair Gerry Acuna summed up the debacle before the evening’s debate had even begun. “Until we resolve this we’re stuck here, and the only people who pay the price are the ratepayers.”

Although aware that prolonging discussions would have adverse effects on ratepayers, with a unanimous vote, the commission once again sent things back to the drawing board and asked Austin Resource Recovery to adopt the Texas Campaign for the Environment’s recommendations that were presented at the meeting as the basis for the matrix and to conduct further public discussion with staff, stakeholders and commissioners.

Austin Resource Recovery Interim Director Sam Angoori said, “It’s going to cost us a lot more if we continue down this path.” He unequivocally explained that the city cannot continue without a finalized set of criteria. “We have to operate. We have to move on,” he said.

Acuna, too, asked for the commission to move beyond circular questions on the issue and take action. “The goal here is to quit kicking the can down the road and do something with it,” he said.

Despite his efforts to persuade the commission to establish some portion of the criteria, Acuna conceded, “In order for us to get beyond this, we almost need a reboot.” In that vein, commissioners opted for a new plan to rebuild the matrix using Austin Resource Recovery’s current work as a building block rather than a final product.

Currently, the plan bases its point system on Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulations. However, according to Andrew Dobbs of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulations are not sufficient for Austin, since as a city we have already set the bar higher than they require.

Adam Gregory, son of Texas Disposal Systems founder Bob Gregory, bolstered Dobbs’ argument saying, “What the staff has come up with is not what anybody asked for.” He asked for more public input in this ordinance process and explained that as it stands, “I’m against where we are right now.”

After hearing more public testimony from various parties, Acuna noted, “It seems that we have the lamb and the lion coming together.”

No one in the room outside of Austin Resource Recovery staff championed the current landfill criteria matrix draft.

Commissioner Joshua Blaine outlined his concerns with the current draft by explaining that it is the commission’s job to be comfortable that those who receive contracts meet the city’s stringent environmental requirements. He said that it is “not necessary to worry as much about the economic impact.”

Dobbs echoed Blaine when he insinuated that economic gains might be the root cause of the disagreement between all parties. “It’s not just about saving money,” he said. “I know that’s going to come as a surprise to rich lobbyists who make their money dumping on communities.” However, he noted that this is why these drafts come to the commission for review.

To help rebalance the landfill criteria and more favorably reflect Austin’s “zero waste” initiative, the commissioners requested that a select number of them meet with stakeholders and staff to discuss their concerns, with the intention of having a matrix that is amenable to all parties by the commission’s May meeting.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Resource Recovery: Formerly Solid Waste Services. The department in charge of handling solid waste disposal, recycling, and--in what is still a pilot program--curb-side composting for the City of Austin.

City of Austin Zero Waste Advisory Commission: An Austin City Council advisory commission. Its members are charged to "[r]eview and analyze the policies and resources relating to solid waste management in the city and advise council on solid waste management policies and resources." Formerly the Solid Waste Advisory Commission.

Texas Campaign for the Environment: A nonprofit environmental advocacy group in Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth fighting pollution.

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