In this 2010 file photo, heavy machinery moves trash atop Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. Credit: John Clarke Russ / BDN

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Lisa Pohlmann is the CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Editor’s note: The letter to the editor cited in this OpEd previously included a link that made it seem like the author, a Casella employee, was calling the Penobscot Nation an “activist group.” That letter’s author was actually referring to the group Don’t Waste ME. That confusing link was added by a member of the BDN editorial page staff, not the letter’s author, and has been removed.

The enormous Juniper Ridge landfill casts a shadow over Old Town and Alton. As it has grown in size, area residents and the Penobscot Nation have raised concerns about increasing pollution that compromises the health of Maine people and the Penobscot River.

In response, the company that operates the landfill, Casella Systems, has gone on the defensive. Most recently, Casella wrote a letter to the editor to this newspaper calling the Penobscot Nation an “activist group” and dismissed the veracity of a water ceremony that was held to bring attention to the tribe’s concerns. This response is a gross mischaracterization of the Penobscot Nation’s concerns.

Casella is taking advantage of a loophole in state law to fill Juniper Ridge with out-of-state waste from Massachusetts. Yet, the profits made from landfilling this waste should not be a priority over the health of Maine people and the Penobscot River. Maine should not be a dumping ground for Massachusetts’ waste.

It is time for Maine to close this loophole and stop this practice. We must act to protect the health of Maine residents, respect the rights of the Penobscot Nation, and protect the health of the Penobscot River.

We hope that the Board of Environmental Protection and state legislators act quickly on the request of a citizen’s initiative to put in place new rules that would no longer allow Maine’s solid waste processing facilities to dispose of residuals at state-owned landfills, unless the waste originated from actual Maine sources.

The presence of a landfill in a community presents environmental hazards and risks for the people living adjacent to it. In the case of the Juniper Ridge landfill, it is the Penobscot Nation and others living nearby that are bearing the brunt of these harmful impacts.

Maine should enshrine protections in law that would affirm that any licensing or permitting decision related to landfilling would ensure that the proposed facility operation would not harm the health and welfare of local communities and would not unfairly or disproportionately burden those communities with pollution.

The amount of waste going to the Juniper Ridge landfill has increased by a stunning 32 percent since 2012. The 2017 disposal amounts were 40 percent higher than the maximum amounts anticipated in 2004 when Maine first acquired the landfill. It is estimated that at least one-third of the waste going there is waste material from out of state. This makes no sense since the state used taxpayer money to buy the landfill with the expressed purpose of preventing out-of-state waste from going into it. The problem has become bigger than anyone imagined.

As John Banks, the natural resources director of the Penobscot Nation, has said: “Unfortunately, Maine has allowed hundreds of thousands of tons of out-of-state waste to be landfilled in our state simply by changing the legal definition. The result is that we’ve become the dumping ground for states to our south. It is time to correct this massive injustice.”

The Natural Resources Council of Maine agrees.