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Safety-Kleen Must Close Landfills

September 22, 2000

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Safety-Kleen Corp., the nation’s largest hazardous waste handler, on Friday lost its federal appeals court bid to continue operating a landfill near Lake Marion while it challenges state closure of the operation.

The ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., poses a potentially huge financial blow to Safety-Kleen, which is in bankruptcy protection, and a major victory for environmentalists in their long efforts to close the site.

``We would have liked to have a stay in place, but we don’t,″ said spokesman John Kyte. ``We’ve already been significantly damaged financially. This revenue stream has been cut in half.″

The Pinewood landfill will close on Monday, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said.

However, the appeals court said it would hear more quickly than usual Safety-Kleen’s attempt to have the state order invalidated.

In addition to its bankruptcy filing, Safety-Kleen is responsible for future cleanup at the site _ estimated at $130 million.

``I am just absolutely thrilled to death,″ said Janet Lynam, whose Citizens Advocating a Safe Environment has fought the landfill. But she also is concerned that the ``the state is going to have to take over and pay the cost to maintain the facility.″

Jim Quinn, a Natural Resources Department lawyer was pleased with the ruling. But, he noted, Safety-Kleen’s bankruptcy means the state is ``faced with a financial mess over there.″

That’s been the threat for years, Sierra Club lawyer Jimmy Chandler said. The argument always was ``don’t shut us down, keep us running so we can keep paying the bills,″ Chandler said.

``It’s like being held hostage,″ he said. ``That is not a way to live.″

In June, the state health department told Safety-Kleen to stop accepting waste, provide new proof of financial backing for future cleanup and provide a detailed plan for closing the landfill permanently.

The state wanted $70 million in the cleanup fund right away and $133 million by 2004, though insurance and bonds could cover part of that.

Safety-Kleen sued, but U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Perry refused to keep the landfill open while the case made its way through his court.

Safety Kleen has argued that DHEC’s orders were retaliation after the company filed for federal bankruptcy protection in Delaware. That followed the discovery of accounting irregularities that could require Safety-Kleen to restate earnings for several years.

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