PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's Central Landfill has been operating without a federally required permit for 16 years and violated a number of other provisions of the Clean Air Act, causing a terrible stench that has plagued the community, according to an environmental group that plans to file suit.
The Conservation Law Foundation's action comes the same week an explosion happened at a power plant that turns gas produced by the landfill into energy, which, the group said, highlights the problems. It also said the landfill and power plant are letting so much gas escape into the air that it threatens public health.
It's the latest trouble at the landfill and power plant, which are already facing a lawsuit in state court from the town of Johnston over the smell. Mayor Joseph Polisena padlocked the power plant soon after Tuesday's explosion, and said the company had defied an order a week earlier to cease operations until several safety issues were addressed, including pipes he said were held together with broomsticks, duct tape and rope.
The Conservation Law Foundation on Thursday sent a notice of intent to sue to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., a quasi-public agency that operates the landfill, as well as Broadrock Gas Services and its subsidiary, Rhode Island LFG Genco, which operates the methane-powered plant.
Michael O'Connell, executive director of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., did not return a request for comment. A spokesman for Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Broadrock, which also operates a landfill power plant in Brea, Calif., also did not return messages seeking comment.
Tricia Jedele, vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation in Rhode Island, said the group wants to hold the landfill and power plant accountable for years of polluting and violating the law.
"The landfill has been operating illegally for 16 years, which is inexcusable and irresponsible," she said.
Among the allegations outlined in the letter is that the landfill was required to apply for a so-called Title V operating permit with the state Department of Environmental Management in 1997. Under the requirements of the Clean Air Act, any major source of air pollution is required to have such a permit, it said.
According to the group, records show that the landfill did not submit an application until 2000, and when it finally did, it was incomplete. Even then, the state has never issued one.
While the power plant has its own Title V permit, the landfill is required to have a permit that covers itself and the power plant, the group said.
Gail Mastrati, a spokeswoman for the DEM, said Friday the department is looking at the issues raised by the Conservation Law Foundation and plans to meet with the group.
Christine Hunsinger, a spokeswoman for Gov. Lincoln Chafee who was among several public officials listed by the group as being sent the notice, said Thursday she was not aware of it and could not immediately comment.
The group also said that faulty gas collection systems mean that methane and other unhealthy gases are being released, as evidenced by persistent reports of horrible odors from residents of Johnston, where the landfill is located, but also from surrounding communities and as far away as Attleboro, Mass.
The group says monitoring at the landfill has shown hundreds of releases of too much gas at the landfill since 2011. As an example, one measurement in January 2012 found 100 times the methane that is allowed under federal law was released.
"Landfill gas generally contains not only methane but also (volatile organic compounds) and hydrogen sulfide, a toxic air pollutant that produces a rotten-egg smell," the group wrote.
O'Connell has said in the past that rain was filling older gas wells and making it difficult to collect landfill gas, allowing it to leak into the atmosphere.