Gov. Ralph Northam has signaled he intends to revive an old debate about how much out-of-state trash Virginia accepts by including in his administration’s budget proposal an order for the state to develop a plan to require landfill operators to pay a statewide tipping fee for solid waste. “The governor is proposing a study of this issue,” said Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky in an email. “Virginia accepted more than 4 million tons of out of state trash in 2019, and we feel this is something worth looking into further.”
The modified budget put forward by the administration for the General Assembly’s approval during its ongoing special session is intended to make adjustments for an estimated $2.7 billion budget shortfall over the next two years caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Northam administration also wants the secretaries of natural resources and agriculture and forestry to “study and develop a plan to require landfill operators to pay a solid waste disposal fee, or a tipping fee, for each ton of solid waste received at the landfill.” These fees, the budget item suggests, would be in addition to any tipping fees charged by the city or county where a landfill is located.
Waste disposal has long been a political flashpoint in Virginia. In the 1990s, seven mega-landfills were constructed in Virginia, driven not only by new state and federal regulations that shut down many existing municipal landfills but also by Virginia’s central location and abundance of cheap land, assets that drove the state to become the U.S. second-largest importer of trash, behind Pennsylvania. The glut of waste from other states led to extensive wrangling among politicians and a short-lived moratorium on trash importation enacted by then-Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore. But efforts to pass federal legislation that would allow states to ban trash imports have repeatedly stalled.