A Sun Journal aerial file photo from 2019 of ReEnergy Lewiston on Alfred Plourde Parkway in Lewiston, bottom right, across from the Walmart Distribution Facility. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — After failing through legislation, an environmental group is petitioning the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to change a rule that allows waste from out of state to be sent to Maine landfills. If successful, the change would force a Lewiston company to close, according to its owners.

The environmental coalition, Don’t Waste Maine, and the nonprofit Toxics Action Center argue a “loophole” in the state’s waste regulations allows out-of-state waste to be funneled through processing facilities in Maine, including ReEnergy Lewiston LLC, making it eligible for disposal in state-owned landfills.

While the group says the rule is contributing to the unsafe and unsustainable use of the state-owned Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town, supporters argue it is an important part of a volatile waste system that benefits from recycled material from ReEnergy.

Ed Spencer, a vocal member of Don’t Waste Maine, has lived near Juniper Ridge since the 1970s.

According to Spencer, as much as 40% of the waste entering the landfill originates from out of state, most of which is classified as construction and demolition debris (CDD).

Spencer says the large majority comes from Massachusetts, where CDD has been restricted from disposal in landfills.

“Our neighbors in Massachusetts continue to tighten their rules on waste disposal and we are calling on Mainers to join us in telling the Board of Environmental Protection that we need to do the same,” Spencer said.

Don’t Waste Maine attempted to get the rule change included in a piece of legislation last year, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Due to the rule’s projected impact on ReEnergy and the state’s overall waste system, it was removed from the legislation during the committee process.

According to Maine Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, the rule change would’ve turned the state’s waste hierarchy “upside down.”

Instead, the group is now petitioning the Maine DEP, but the process has been hobbled by COVID-19.

The proposed change would redefine Maine waste as waste generated in Maine, and would add definitions of environmental justice and equal protections for citizens adversely affected by waste facilities across the state.

A public hearing has not yet been set, but the Board of Environmental Protection is accepting public comment regarding the proposed rule changes.

Officials from ReEnergy told the Sun Journal they would not be able to operate the Lewiston facility without receiving material from out of state, resulting in a loss of some 50 jobs.

“We need a certain volume of material to make it economically viable,” said Greg Leahey, president of ReEnergy’s waste services division.

“If ReEnergy shuts down, it then has a ripple effect on other parts of the waste disposal and recycling chain,” Libby said. “These issues showed that if you pulled at the yarn, the larger system starts unraveling.”

Libby said Maine has been sending its waste to other New England states to be processed as well, and that the idea of closing off the state to reciprocal arrangements didn’t sit well with legislators.

ReEnergy Holdings, which owns the processing facility on Alfred Plourde Parkway in Lewiston, takes in materials from construction and demolition and converts a large portion to wood chips, which are sold to biomass power plants and other facilities in New England and Quebec.

However, the leftover material is sent to Juniper Ridge.

According to an annual report submitted to the Maine DEP, ReEnergy took in 235,650 tons of CDD in 2019. Roughly 21,800 tons originated in Maine.

Of that number, the report states 136,600 tons of CDD “fines” (a dirt-like material left after processing) ended up at Juniper Ridge, which uses the material for shaping and grading the landfill.

Leahey said that without the material from Lewiston, the state would have to purchase virgin soil to use as “daily top cover” for the landfill.

LD 401, “An Act To Preserve State Landfill Capacity and Promote Recycling,” was signed into law in March.

Spencer argues LD 401 was “co-opted and changed to benefit the waste industry, notably Casella and ReEnergy,” and that his group has struggled to glean more information on how Juniper Ridge operates.

Casella Waste Systems owned ReEnergy’s Lewiston site, formerly KTI Biofuels, until 2013. A subsidiary of Casella also operates Juniper Ridge for the state.

Leahey said ReEnergy was one of several stakeholders that worked through an 18-month process on the legislation “that met everyone’s goals.”

“We feel very strongly that the unanimous support from the (Environment and Natural Resources Committee) is an example that it was beneficial for all stakeholders,” he said.

He said as part of the process, ReEnergy also committed to spending $2 million on new technology that would lead to more material being recycled.

For Lewiston, its relationship with ReEnergy is beneficial.

ReEnergy’s annual lease payment for its property in the city-owned industrial park is about $35,000 annually. It pays $44,923 in real estate taxes, $12,155 in personal property taxes, and Lewiston receives a reimbursement from the state for $28,245 for their tax-exempt eligible equipment.

According to former City Administrator Ed Barrett, ReEnergy also takes up to a certain tonnage of the city’s CDD at no cost, saving the city roughly $90 per ton.

“This credit has been particularly helpful as we have demolished over 70 buildings since 2010,” Barrett said. “We consider ReEnergy an important part of our overall solid waste management system, which is one of the most cost effective in the state.”

No material from ReEnergy goes into Lewiston’s landfill.

No timeline has been set yet by the Board of Environmental Protection for the rule change, but the public comment period has been extended.

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