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EPA Proposes Rejection of V.I. Landfill Program; Invites Public to Comment at Hearings on June 27 and 28

Release Date: 05/08/2000
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(#00082) New York, N.Y. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken the first step toward disapproving the U.S. Virgin Islands' landfill program and assuming a greater role in enforcing federal solid waste landfill laws on the Islands. A history of problems at the Bovoni and Anguilla landfills and the fact that the Virgin Islands government has not adopted necessary solid waste regulations or allocated enough funding and staff to deal with important solid waste issues, has prompted EPA to make an initial determination that the Virgin Islands' solid waste landfill program is unsatisfactory. A notice of EPA's preliminary decision was published in the Federal Register today, May 8, and the agency will hold two public meetings to discuss it in June.

"In the interest of the people of the Virgin Islands and their natural environment, EPA is prepared to assume the  primary role of enforcing federal solid waste laws in the territory," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Regional Administrator. "This is an unfortunate situation. The nation's solid waste laws were designed to be implemented and enforced locally by states and territories because local governments can generally deal with their solid waste needs better and faster than other government entities.  However, our agency has been unable to obtain the regulatory and resource changes by the Virgin Islands needed to approve its program. We are ready to play a much larger role than we have in the past to bring about much-needed changes."

Congress granted states and territories -- as well as individuals -- the ability to take action against facility owners or operators that do not comply with federal requirements regardless of whether a state's solid waste landfill program is approved by EPA. States with approved programs, however, are afforded many flexibilities in the design, location and operation of their landfills that are not granted to states that do not have agency approval. For EPA to approve a state-run program, the state or territory must show that: it has its own set of solid waste laws and regulations that are comparable to federal requirements; it has the funding and staff to monitor and enforce against those that don't comply with the laws; and it will include the public in its permitting and enforcement process as required under the federal law.

When the Virgin Islands first applied for solid waste program approval in 1993, EPA gave its tentative approval and advised the government that to get full approval, it had to have comparable regulations in place by May 1996 and commit the staff and financial resources to ensure that the landfills were operated according to federal standards. So far, the regulations have not been adopted, adequate resources have not been put in place and serious problems at both the Bovoni and Anguilla landfills persist, including: the improper disposal of used oil and hazardous waste; underground fires caused by improperly vented methane causing smoke and air pollution; the contamination of natural areas from landfill run-off; and the general mismanagement of solid waste on the Islands.

If EPA were to assume a greater role in enforcing federal solid waste requirements in the Virgin Islands, the landfills would continue to be operated by the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works (DPW) and the V.I. government would still have the authority to enforce any local solid waste laws and regulations. EPA would instead assume the primary enforcement role, now played by DPNR, of inspecting landfills to ensure that they meet all federal regulations, and taking enforcement actions when they do not.

EPA will hold two hearings in the Virgin Islands to discuss this issue with the public. The first will be held on June 27, 2000 at 7 p.m. at the Department of Education Curriculum Center in Tutu, St. Thomas. The second will be held on June 28, 2000 at 7 p.m. at the Department of Education Curriculum Center, 21-22 Hospital Street, Christiansted, St. Croix. EPA encourages all interested residents to attend one of the two meetings, and to examine pertinent documents at the EPA office in the Federal Building, 5500 Veterans Drive, St. Thomas; at the Enid M. Baa Library, #20 Dronningens Gade, St. Thomas; at Elaine I. Sprauve Library, Enighed Estate, Cruz Bay, St. John; or at the Florence Williams Public Library, 49-50 King's Street, Christiansted, St. Croix.

EPA also encourages the public to submit written comments to Mr. Carl-Axel P. Soderberg, Director, EPA Region 2, Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, Centro Europa Building, Suite 417, 1492 Ponce De Leon Avenue, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907-4127, telephone (787) 729-6951 ext. 222. Comments may also be submitted electronically to: soderberg.carl@epamail.epa.gov.   Comments must be postmarked by July 24, 2000.  Once the hearings have been held and EPA has considered all the comments received from the public, the agency will make a final decision about whether to formally disapprove of the Virgin Islands' solid waste landfill program and assume a greater role in the enforcement of federal landfill regulations. This process will take at least 90 days from today.