New EPA rules haven't been the only federal vexation for rural counties.
About 425,000 square miles of
"land that nobody wanted" is administered by the federal Bureau of
Land Management, and in almost 300 places in the West, the BLM had
a convenient parcel to use for a
Typically, the BLM leased the land to
the county for a nominal fee, and had some requirements. The
landfill had to be fenced, burning was forbidden, and trash had to
be covered every day. If the site filled, then the county leased
another parcel from the BLM. That doesn't happen any more. The
Recreation and Public Purposes Act of 1988 terminated the authority
of the Secretary of the Interior to lease public lands for
solid-waste disposal. In 1992, the BLM issued regulations
implementing the act (HCN, 12/27/93).
current landfills on BLM land? The BLM plans to sell them to the
counties. BLM doesn't want the landfills because of potential
Superfund liability, and the transfer requires the county to assume
all "potential liability associated with the use of these sites for
solid waste disposal."
As for the future, BLM
policy is to allow local governments to acquire public lands for
use as landfills. But getting the land can be a complex process,
subject to political vagaries. Most counties building new landfills
look everywhere else before turning to the BLM, whereas the BLM
used to be the first option, and generally an easy
The change in BLM policy added another level
of complexity to trash in the West, just when the EPA was providing
plenty of complication, all on its own.