COLUMBIA — Nobody thinks much about garbage, as long as someone else hauls it away for a reasonable price.
But the South Carolina Association of Counties says homeowners will have plenty to worry about if a well-financed campaign by waste companies is successful at the State House this year.
National waste corporations are pushing legislation that could give them a greater share of the trash business in South Carolina that they now share with county governments.
They already operate about half the garbage landfills in South Carolina, but one day will own a monopoly if the Legislature sides with waste giants such as Republic Services and Waste Management, according to the counties association.
And if the waste industry takes control of more landfills and waste hauling services, the average citizen will pay higher prices to dispose of waste, county officials say. Lexington, Richland, Aiken, Spartanburg, Chester, Beaufort and Horry counties are among those with concerns.
Counties got into the garbage business when private companies weren’t around, and in some cases managed to keep disposal prices down.
The bill “cripples public solid waste programs, which will ultimately lead to their forced takeover by large out-of-state waste companies,” the counties association said in a legislative alert to its members last week. “It is important for you to understand and communicate the facts to the senators.”
Last week’s alert urges county leaders to fight the bill as well as efforts to bring it up for a special vote when the Senate returns for work on April 9. A legislative committee last month agreed to send the bill to the Senate floor, but because of questions about it, the measure now needs special approval to bring it up for a vote.
The legislation, which also came up last year, would make it illegal for any county to require any waste generated in the county to be sent to the county landfill or waste transfer station. Many counties have laws controlling the flow of waste that would be affected, local government officials say. Some depend on revenues from those ordinances to pay for waste disposal operations.
Garbage industry boosters say arguments that they want to corner the market and raise rates are miles off base.
“That particular line is extreme hyperbole,” said Jason Puhlasky, a lobbyist who represents Republic Services and a national waste industry association.
Puhlasky said waste corporations don’t want to take over the trash business in South Carolina, but companies should have a fair chance to compete for business. And competition could lower prices, bill supporters said.
If the law passes, county leaders say public landfills will be harder to operate because the bill hurts their ability to use landfill revenues for operations or to pay off debt to improve the waste sites. That would make it easier for private companies to buy the landfills, bring in out-of-state waste and charge higher prices to customers, they say. One private entity already has made overtures to Horry County about acquiring its landfill and bringing in out-of-state waste, an issue that is a political sore spot for many South Carolina residents upset about taking other states’ garbage.
The legislation also could allow big waste companies to squeeze out local garbage haulers and set higher prices, according to the Association of Counties alert.
Waste Management Inc. and Republic Services, two of the country’s biggest garbage companies, are key boosters of the bill.
The two companies also pushed the legislation last year, spending more than $350,000 lobbying the Legislature in 2012, according to records filed with the State Ethics Commission. Waste Management and Republic paid more for lobbyists last year than most other companies, ranking in the top 15 in lobbyist payments, commission records show. Lobbying expenses are not available for this year.
Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey said he worries that the legislation will allow a private waste company to open a new landfill that brings out-of-state waste to the Chester area between Columbia and Charlotte. A company affiliated with Republic Services already owns about 800 acres in Chester County, county tax records show.
“I don’t want outside waste brought in here,” Roddey said, but added that “These waste companies have a lot of influence.”