MONTPELIER - A New England environmental group that typically targets large corporate polluters has included two unlikely names on its 2006 list of "Dirty Dozen" polluters - New York's environmental regulatory agency and Vermont's largest operator of waste recycling programs.
On Monday, the Montpelier-based citizens' watchdog group, Toxics Action Center, named the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) and the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) on its annual roll call of pollution-causing bad guys. According to Mia Scampini of the Toxic Action Center, NYDEC received the "honor" this year because of its decision last month to allow a test burn of tire-derived fuel at International Paper's Ticonderoga mill without mandating industry-standard pollution controls. Scampini claims that decision ran contrary to internal recommendations by the agency's own scientists. A spokesperson for the DEC couldn't be reached for comment as of press time.
Also named this year was CSWD, Scampini says, because of its recent proposal to build a new, 66-acre landfill in Williston near a residential area. Toxics Action Center contends that the new facility is unnecessary because there's already sufficient capacity in Vermont's two existing landfills, in Moretown and Coventry, to last another 24 years.
"This landfill is a very short-sighted way for them to manage waste," Scampini charges. "We would like to see them increase the output of their recycling programs and start looking into more sustainable ways of managing waste."
Toxics Action Center is calling on CSWD to put the landfill proposal on hold for at least a year to research alternative methods of waste disposal and resource recovery, especially since there's no urgency to open the new landfill.
"If they want to put us on a list of their dirty dozen, I'm disappointed, but that's their prerogative," says Tom Moreau, general manager of CSWD. "I don't think any of us is sitting here saying, 'Oh, goody! Let's build another landfill.' But if you're going to have one, we should make it as environmentally sound as possible."
Moreau says he finds it "ironic" that Toxics Action Center would recommend that Chittenden County continue shipping 145,000 tons of solid waste produced each year to two landfills that the environmental group has openly criticized in the past.
"Zero waste is a good goal," he adds, "but until we can get society to change its wasteful habits, landfills are a necessary evil."
The third local "Dirty Dozen" recipient was the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. This is the second year that Vermont Yankee has made the list. The first time was for a petition filed by Entergy Nuclear to increase the plant's operating capacity to 120 percent, which was granted in March. This year, Scampini says, the nuclear facility was singled out for its decision to store radioactive waste in dry-cask storage containers along the banks of the Connecticut River.
Nine other "Dirty Dozen" sites were named in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Con- necticut and Maine.
This is the tenth year that Toxics Action Center has spotlighted environmental and public-health threats. It isn't the first time a state agency made the list. In 2000, Massachusetts was similarly shamed for its decision to spray pesticides in response to the West Nile virus; likewise, in 2003, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation received a Dirty Dozen award for petitioning the Town of Natick to apply weed killer to Lake Cochituate.
What do the "Dirty Dozen" awards accomplish, other than drawing public attention to ongoing or recent environmental fights? According to Scampini, sometimes they're a catalyst for change.
She cites an example in Williamstown, where a community group nominated UniFirst, one of the nation's largest suppliers of workplace uniforms and protective apparel, for the award last year. There, citizens had long been urging the company and the state to move faster on cleaning up an underground toxic plume, which had contaminated groundwater.
Scampini claims that after the "award" was given last fall, the state announced plans to oversee full remediation of the site and find the community a clean water supply.