Republic Services, Inc., a for-profit, out-of-state corporation, owns and operates the landfill through a subsidiary corporation, Valley Landfills, Inc. (VLI). VLI reaps the landfill’s profits and shares a tiny percentage with Benton County through a franchise agreement. Landfills are forever. Benton County’s long-term risk and environmental liability grow with each additional ton of garbage dumped in the landfill.
The landfill is owned and operated by Valley Landfills, Inc. (VLI), a subsidiary corporation of Republic Services Inc., an Arizona-based corporation with $11.3 billion in annual revenues and with a profit of nearly $1.3 billion in 2021.
Republic Services, Inc. operates its businesses through more than 200 subsidiary corporations or business units, a legal structure designed to limit Republic Services’ financial liability resulting from damage claims against the landfill. Such claims may result from environmental damage or impacts from groundwater pollution, landfill fires, airborne pollution, hazardous wastes, etc.
In an attempt to help offset Benton County and its citizens’ liability against the cost of a major catastrophic landfill event, Valley Landfills, Inc., the landfill operator, is required to maintain an Environmental Trust Fund and Pollution Liability Insurance per the 2020 Landfill Franchise Agreement.
The Environmental Trust Fund is to be maintained at minimum balance of $5,000,000.
The Pollution Liability Insurance coverage is mandated as $10,000,000.
Catastrophic landfill events such as subsurface exothermic reactions (underground fire); or impacts from or discovery of significant toxic pollution could easily overwhelm these insurance policies.
Environmental risks to which Benton County and its citizens may be exposed due to the landfill include:
• Toxic air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
• Airborne toxic dust both from garbage dumped into the landfill and/or alternate daily cover (ash from the Covanta incinerator)
• Groundwater and soil contamination from toxic material in the landfill and PFAS (forever chemicals) in leachate
• Landfill fire, including difficult-to-extinguish subsurface smoldering
• Generation of leachate (garbage juice) which is treated and disposed of in the Willamette River
Many of these environmental risks rise in relation to the total garbage dumped, which is why limiting Coffin Butte to the size currently permitted (i.e. no expansion) is critical.
Even with no expansion, citizens should be aware that the landfill is only approximately 55% full; environmental and pollution risks will continue to grow as more waste is added over the coming years.
Exact revenue figures for the Coffin Butte landfill are unavailable because Benton County gave up control over tipping fees (2000 Landfill Franchise Agreement) and gave up the right to review accounting books and records (Ord. 2000-0165).
Republic Services Inc. revenue from landfill operations in 2021 was approximately $2.51B, and about equal to that of all their residential collection operations ($2.45B).
Republic Services, Inc. 2021 total landfill operating costs were about $0.26B (roughly 10% of total revenue), so, on average, the landfill operations yielded a very high profit margin by US industry standards.
Benton County receives a Host Fee payment of $2.93 per ton from Coffin Butte in 2022 (per the 2020 Landfill Franchise Agreement), which is likely to be about 7-10% of the tipping fees charged by the landfill (again, Benton County has given up the right to know these tipping fees).
So, although Benton County does receive compensation from the landfill, the vast majority of the profit from Coffin Butte goes to the Arizona corporation, while Benton County will have to deal with the environmental burden in perpetuity.