Sometimes the pursuit of illegal dumpers on Long Island seems like a game of whack-a-mole. Officials hit one and another pops up somewhere else. And no matter how many bad guys are caught, others continue to operate unchecked.
That’s why it’s so important that state officials working on a major revision of solid waste regulations give themselves the best tools possible to catch the miscreants who degrade the region’s landscape and threaten its sole-source aquifer. After receiving many public comments during the rewriting process, the Department of Environmental Conservation has strengthened its proposed rules. But they’re still not strong enough. And now the last comment period has ended and the agency is slated to release the final regulations in the fall.
One big problem is the system proposed for tracking waste from where it’s generated to where it’s disposed. The current draft requires cradle-to-grave reporting, a necessary change, but would allow it to be done on paper. The proposed rules indicate the DEC wants to transition to electronic reporting, but don’t mandate it. They should. Electronic record-keeping is 21st century record-keeping, and the easiest way to track and catch violators. If the agency lacks the resources or personnel to regularly monitor computer records, it should be given those in the next state budget. Plus, not all waste would be subject to reporting — for example, Long Island-generated construction and demolition debris is exempt.
The illegal dumping problem will likely get worse when the Brookhaven Town landfill, by far the largest of the only two sites on Long Island that can accept construction and demolition debris, closes within 10 years. The DEC should craft the strictest reporting rules it can now, or it will play whack-a-mole with both polluters and its own regulations later.