Does a local government have the right to decide where all of its trash should go? Or does such a practice create a government-sponsored monopoly?
That’s the question being asked by South Carolina legislators about a new bill on the House floor this week. The legislation targets Horry County, which in 2009 required all trash inside its borders to go to a single landfill it owns– a practice known as “flow-control.”
Horry County officials say they passed the “flow-control” ordinance out of liability concerns for construction and demolition waste that had been going to neighboring Marion County. But they say they are also using the additional revenue it brings in to fund recycling programs and 911 emergency services.
Several garbage haulers complained, saying the Horry landfill was run by the Solid Waste Authority (SWA) — a quasi-governmental entity– which meant the ordinance effectively create a monopoly on waste collection in the county. However, the state Supreme Court ruled in the county’s favor last September, saying “flow control” was legal under state law. Horry is the only county in South Carolina with such a law.
Some legislators say that wasn’t the intent of the 1991 law. “We try to create a competitive market for businesses because competition is what keeps prices down,” said Rep. Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach), “If we had one place to buy hamburgers, it’d cost a lot more.”
Those state representatives are now pushing for “The “Business Freedom to Choose Act,” which passed a House environmental committee chaired by Hardwick last week. The bill would allow a waste hauler to dump trash at any state-approved landfill, regardless of location.
Horry County officials say the legislature is micromanaging local affairs. SWA Executive Director Danny Knight said garbage collection is a utility– much like water or electricity services. “All you hear is ‘monopoly,’ ‘monopoly,'” he said, “If you go get water and sewer, most times there’s only one place you can get it. When you go get your power, (there’s) pretty much one place you can get that.”
Knight said the public also benefits from SWA’s “tipping fees”– the fee each collector pays per ton of waste dumped on SWA’s landfill, “If we lose control, we lose a bunch of our income.” He said that could mean the elimination of a recycling education program funded largely by the tipping fees.
But Hardwick said the public already loses when a government entity can set an uncompetitive price. “We’re giving up a waste hauler’s freedom to choose,” he said, “For what? 911 calls? I don’t know (if) that’s the way we need to fund 911 calls. We fund it in several other ways.”
The issue is dividing Horry County’s own delegation to the Statehouse. Some Grand Strand lawmakers like Hardwick, Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), and Rep. Liston Barfield (R-Aynor) support the bill. Others such as Rep. George Hearn (R-Conway) have been more restrained in their support. Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Elliott (D-Myrtle Beach) says he will oppose the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.
“It bothers me that you have to take a stance against the people back home,” Hardwick said, “It is not a job I like doing, being against the folks in Horry County.”
Another concern from Horry officials is that the elimination of flow control would open the county landfill up to large out-of-state waste companies. However, Hardwick said the committee included an amendment to make sure that would not happen.