A Senate committee Wednesday unanimously approved an 18-month moratorium on new landfills to give state officials time to study the impact of solid waste disposal is having on North Carolina.
Waste management businesses are planning four major landfills around the state, which have the potential to double North Carolina's waste capacity.
"We all know that landfills are an integral part of the state and of economic growth," said Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, the bill's sponsor. "However, we've got to take a look at these mega-landfills before we move forward."
One facility in Camden County would take in 10,000 tons of garbage each day from all along the East Coast and as far away as Michigan. Currently, the state landfill with the highest volume of waste is the Charlotte Motor Speedway facility, which takes in about 3,500 tons per day.
Elizabeth Self, a lobbyist for the environmental advocacy group Sierra Club, said the new projects would turn North Carolina, which is now a net exporter of trash, into the fourth largest waste importing state.
"North Carolina is poised to become the destination of choice for trash along the East Coast of the United States," said Jim Stephenson, policy director for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, an environmental group concerned with issues along the waterfront. "These mega landfills pose serious environmental, ecological and economic impacts."
All the major facilities -- in Camden, Brunswick, Hyde and Columbus Counties -- are currently under review.
While House Speaker Jim Black has said representatives will consider the proposal, he questioned the state's decision to hault existing reviews.
"There's some companies that have made significant investment in North Carolina and we let them get pretty far along (in the process of planning a new landfill)," Black said last week. "And if you pass a moratorium ... there may be some legally jeopardy there."
And while landfill opponents said the trash could contaminate groundwater supplies and harm fragile ecosystems, Greg Peverall, a consultant for Waste Management, said the landfills instead protect the environment by safely storing trash. He added that a number of North Carolina landfills will reach capacity over the next decade.
Dexter Matthews, the director of waste management for North Carolina's Department of Natural Resources, said the bill's exceptions allow existing landfills to expand, which will help the state meet its needs during the moratorium.
The Senate, which is expected to bring the bill to the floor Thursday, originally wanted to add the landfill moratorium in the budget.
"We're talking about some real severe implications with these landfills," Jenkins said. "We have to consider those implications."