Casella Waste’s Deal with Maine
The Need for a Review and Audit of Dealings between Casella Waste and the State of Maine
On January 31, 2012, DEP Commissioner (and former Casella lobbyist) Pat Aho granting a Public Benefit Determination in favor of an expansion of the Casella-operated, State-owned JRL dump in Old Town.
In that DEP determination there are provisions attempting to address some concerns, also reflected in the included letter, about the growing quantity of out of state waste being dumped in JRL.
The manner in which the Department proposes to address this problem includes a limited audit of the quantity and type of waste coming into Casella’s KTI waste processing facility in Lewiston.
While these provisions start to address some of the concerns raised in the letter requesting OPEGA look into this matter, a larger scale audit and review is still very much needed.
There are concerns about the enforceability of the DEP provisions in the recent determination, as well as about the effectiveness of the proposed audit in addressing problems of out-of-state waste, and potential conflicts of interest among those with approval and oversight powers in the contracts and permits between the State of Maine and Casella Waste.
The DEP determination does nothing to address concerns about potential misuse of Public funds and anti- competitive actions in contracts between the State and Casella.
In January 2012, a tri-partisan group of 10 legislators submitted a letter to the Government Oversight Committee, requesting that OPEGA do a full review and audit of dealings between the State and Casella. The letter raised major concerns about out-of-state waste, conflicts of interest in awarding of contracts to Casella, changes to contracts without public notification, anti-competitive actions by the company, and misuse of Public funds.
The issues raised in the request have significant amounts of background research and documentation already completed and available for review, so there would not be undue burden on OPEGA to complete new research.
Accountability for Impacted Communities
From the initial approval of the Juniper Ridge Landfill, to the most recent approval of Public Benefit for expansion, there have been very limited opportunities for real Public input, very few formal Public Hearings, and repeated instances of major changes to contracts and laws relating to operations occcuring without community notification or involvement prior to these changes.
Casella is currently accepting nearly 25% more waste than the 450,000-540,000 tons per year listed in its original application and approved in JRL’s 2004 license amendment.
Over the past eight years, Casella has been providing the SPO with information regarding the quantity and type of waste at JRL. There is concern there is a conflict of interest. Casella is doing research on its own agency and providing it to the agency that both owns and is supposed to oversee the operation of JRL.
With the oversight of the JRL shifting to the Bureau of General Services (BGS) and the DEP, this presents more possible conflicts of interest. Furthermore former Casella lobbyist Pat Aho now serves as DEP Commissioner and was listed an active lobbyist in 2011 for Pierce Atwood, the law firm that currently employs 5 of Casella’s 7 lobbyists in Augusta.
Preserving landfill space for Maine-generated Waste
The DEP claims more landfill space is needed to accomodate increasing amounts of Maine waste. However, the amount of waste generated by Maine people has dropped significantly in recent years, since with a worsening economy, people have less income to buy products that generate waste. Ignoring the negative growth rate for Maine-generated waste, the DEP is using numbers generated by Casella and the SPO that show significant increases in Maine generated waste.
Despite a decrease in state-wide waste generation, JRL’s disposal rate increased from 528,622 tons in 2009 to 708,198 tons in 2010.
When the State first granted approval for Casella to operate the State-owned dump, only Maine waste was going to be allowed in JRL. After approval, Casella successfully lobbied for changes to the definition of Maine waste to allow any waste “processed” in Maine to be considered in-state waste.
Casella’s KTI Biofuels processing facility in Lewiston imports Construction and Demolition Debris (CDD) from outside Maine, where it’s “processed” into Maine waste. According to 2011 reports, over 90% of the waste sent to JRL from KTI Biofuels processing facility in Lewiston was imported from outside of Maine.
Casella’s Biddeford incinerator, MERC, imports Municipal Solid Waste from out-of-state and is able to dump resulting ash and unburnable trash in JRL. Casella avoids paying for disposal of most of these materials at JRL, where they get classified as “daily cover.”
Saving Tax-payer dollars
There is concern that public funds have been misused by Casella. These funds have come through different programs under the oversight of Efficiency Maine, the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), and various renewable energy credit programs, as well as by costs internalized by Maine towns sending their waste to JRL.
Maine towns often pay higher tipping fees than towns shipping in waste from out of state.
The recently investigated Maine Green Energy Alliance was originally created and funded by Casella in order to allow the company to receive Public ARRA funding to upgrade operations in Maine.
Casella, with SPO’s apparent approval, may have violated Maine statutes requiring maximum recycling, source reduction, and recycling at solid waste processing facilities. Failure to follow Maine’s Solid Waste Hierarchy could have led to a significant loss in revenue to the State Waste Fund and local municipalities.
In 2005 Casella received a $25 million loan insured by the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME). The money has not been repaid, and has recently been put out on the bond market, with a B3 rating, indicating the bonds are judged as speculative and high credit risk junk bonds. There is general concern about Casella’s financial ability to meet commitments without continuing to rely on Public subsidies, considering that the company’s debt is higher than its market capitalization.
Ensuring competition in the marketplace
The original Request for Proposals from potential operators of JRL was written in such a way that Casella would be the most qualified bidder, and indeed they were the only applicant. Casella demanded changes to some terms of the RFP after they were awarded the contract. SPO agreed to these changes instead of resubmitting an amended RFP for the other potential bidders.
Casella has entered an open ended contract with the University of Maine to develop a gas pipeline from JRL to the Steam Plant at the University of Maine at Orono (UMO). Members of the UMO and local community were not informed of the decision until after the New Year, with no apparent avenue of appeal. It appears that no other company was considered for the pipeline contract.
UMO’s single stream recycling program contract although also won by Casella, is being challenged by EcoMaine. EcoMaine claims the way the proposal was written only Casella would qualify, giving rise to similar concerns over anti-competitive actions relating to the original JRL contract in 2003.
Protecting natural resources
The JRL dump is bordered by streams and a large bog that provides habitat to many types of fish and wildlife sensitive to toxins and other environmental changes. The lack of independent oversight, and the expansion of the amount and types of waste coming into JRL (including biomedical waste) threaten the health of this area, which feeds the Pushaw stream, which empties into the Penobscot River.
Protecting the health of people in Maine
JRL is expanding in the direction of a residential area that includes many families with small children. One of the closest residences is the Fort James House, a residential care facility for children with mental illness, run by the United Cerebral Palsey Foundation of Eastern Maine. Residents surrounding JRL have reported finding arsenic and other contaminant in their well water that was not present prior to presence of the dump.
Some of the highest recorded levels of Hydrogen Sulfide are in this area. Hydrogen Sulfide and other toxins produced by landfill gas threaten the health of people living in the area, especially children whose systems are most sensitive to these contaminants.
Background on Casella Standing Challenge:
Attorney Tom Doyle of Pierce Atwood, representing Casella Waste, has
filed a letter with the Board of Environmental Protection challenging
the right of area residents to appeal the Public Benefit approval for
expansion of the State-owned, Casella-operated JRL dump in Old Town,
issued on Jan 31, 2012 by DEP Commissioner and former Pierce Atwood
attorney representing Casella, Pat Aho.
Doyle claims that the local residents who filed the appeal do not have
the legal standing to challenge the expansion approval that was issued
without a formal Public Hearing.
At the informal Public informational session in October 2011, put on
by the DEP, State Planning Office, and Casella, over 200 local people
showed up, and of the dozens of people who spoke over the course of
the evening, not one person who was not paid to be at the meeting by
the DEP, SPO, or Casella, spoke in favor of granting a Public Benefit
approval for major expansion of the JRL dump.
In response to Doyle’s request to deny local people the right to an
appeal, the BEP granted Casella an additional month to challenge the
appeal, while giving the members of the Public who filed the appeal
less than one week to reply to Casella’s challenge of their standing.