A large but empty landfill on the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake’s Promontory Point peninsula has officially asked Utah regulators to let it take waste from other states once again.
This is the second time Promontory Point Resources, or PPR, has asked the Department of Environmental Quality to issue it a Class V permit, which allows it to secure commercial waste contracts instead of local municipal ones. PPR abruptly withdrew its first Class V application in 2018. A state-commissioned report had found no need for another commercial landfill, and PPR apparently wanted to prevent those findings from becoming public.
DEQ regulators began reviewing PPR’s latest Class V application — all 6,000 pages of it — this month.
“We’re really early in this process,” said Brian Speer, solid waste program manager for DEQ, adding that the department has posted the entire application online. “I think if there were anything to be shared, it’s that we’re trying to make this a transparent process.”
Requests for comment and interviews with PPR operators were not returned.
“I will pass along the request but I seriously doubt that they will see any reason to do so,” said company spokesman Dave Owen in a text message.
According to a Needs Assessment report that’s part of the application, PPR is taking a scaled-back approach compared to its first Class V attempt. The landfill directors previously said they would focus on industrial waste, instead of municipal waste like household garbage, and explore contracts throughout the West. Now, PPR is eyeing northern Utah and southern Idaho for municipal trash, including Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
The landfill can already take municipal waste through a contract with a Utah governmental entity, like a city or county. It has yet to secure one.
The report also doesn’t specify any municipalities in Idaho that are actively interested in sending their trash to Utah, but PPR appears to be betting on commercial haulers for business.
“Much of this commercial [municipal waste] was likely disposed at the publicly-owned landfills or their transfer stations because they were the least-cost option,” the report says. “However, our analysis shows that [the Promontory Point landfill] could be able to offer an even lower cost disposal service (and would have a business incentive to do so).”
The landfill operators are also again pursuing contaminated soils considered hazardous in California but not regulated as such in Utah. (PPR’s parent company, Allos Environmental, operates a landfill and transfer station in California. It acquired both two years after buying the Promontory Point property.) The company continues to eye the Union Pacific rail line bisecting the Great Salt Lake, traveling conveniently close to the PPR landfill’s boundaries, for importing this waste.
Noticeably absent from PPR’s application, however, is any mention of coal ash.
Change of plans?
PPR first sought Class V status in 2017, building its pricey landfill cell before Utah regulators had signed off on the permit and without officially inking contracts to take any trash. Back then, the application had detailed plans to ship in coal ash by train from places like Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.
It also said PPR would be “working with” decommissioned coal plants throughout the Western United States, including states like Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Wyoming, to potentially dispose of 47 million metric tons of ash.
Wyoming is briefly noted in the new Needs Assessment report as a possible source of industrial waste by rail. Coal plants and their cleanup aren’t mentioned at all.
But just because coal ash isn’t alluded to in the latest application doesn’t mean PPR can’t seek it in the future.
“I think that’s where the money is and that’s where the market is,” said Lynn de Freitas with FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake.
Speer with DEQ said PPR will need to follow additional regulatory procedures if they later decide to import the material.
Coal ash mostly comes from coal-fired power plants and often contains dangerous levels of mercury, arsenic and cadmium. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, classified it as “nonhazardous” in 2014 mostly because there’s so much of the stuff. Treating it as hazardous waste would make it difficult to recycle and become a regulatory nightmare as more and more coal plants go offline.
Great Salt Lake industries and advocates especially worried about PPR’s coal ash ambitions. The material has contaminated waterways throughout the nation.
De Freitas speculated that PPR left out coal ash in its latest application to avoid the public scrutiny that came with its last Class V attempt.
“The fact that coal ash had been such a lightning rod when we were doing our public outreach, and people were concerned about that possibility, clearly I think it’s strategic,” de Freitas said. “They don’t want to raise concerned eyebrows yet.”
Owen, the PPR spokesperson, previously refused to answer The Salt Lake Tribune’s question about whether the landfill would again seek coal ash.
"They have already answered that question several times and I suggest you read the permit application,” Owen texted earlier this month.
Allos Environmental has taken down its website. But the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine showed the company discussed disposing of coal ash at the PPR site as recently as late October, shortly before it submitted its new Class V application.
New application, new regulators
PPR’s first Class V attempt was stymied when the then-director of the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control hired a third-party consultant to analyze its original Needs Assessment report. The consultant found PPR lacked a robust review of the waste market and its competing landfills. Utah currently has more than 1,000 years worth of Class V landfill capacity at other facilities.
When PPR came back with an amended Needs Assessment report, the consultant again found no evidence that Utah would benefit from another Class V landfill. That’s when PPR quickly revoked its original Class V application.
DEQ now has a new director of waste management. Speer is new to his solid waste program manager role as well. It’s not clear whether the department will again require a third party to review PPR’s latest Needs Assessment report, even though it’s significantly different from the first.
“We haven’t determined that yet,” Speer said. “Third party review is usually triggered when we feel a second opinion is needed. We have scientists that have been doing this for a long time, so we give them an opportunity.”
De Frietas said another independent analysis should be required, given the sheer amount of garbage that will potentially be coming into the state if PPR becomes a Class V.
“Imagine the amount of waste you can bring in by a train compared to the garbage trucks that go up and down our streets,” she said. “Class V, it’s an umbrella that encompasses a whole lot.”