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Lawsuit claims Seneca Meadows landfill emissions violate New Yorkers’ right to a healthy environment

The Seneca Meadows landfill receives roughly 6,000 tons of waste each day. A new lawsuit alleges that the continued operation and permitting of the site violates surrounding residents’ rights.
Rebecca Redelmeier / WSKG News
The Seneca Meadows landfill receives roughly 6,000 tons of waste each day. A new lawsuit alleges that the continued operation and permitting of the site violates surrounding residents’ rights.

A new lawsuit against New York’s largest landfill alleges the site’s emissions pose a nuisance to its neighbors — and that the Department of Environmental Conservation is at fault as well.

The lawsuit, which was brought by a group of local environmentalists, businesses and residents, is advocates’ latest move to try to get the Seneca Meadows landfill shut down.

Along with complaints against Seneca Meadows, the suit alleges the DEC has violated the group’s right to clean air and a healthy environment by allowing the landfill to continue to operate.

Those rights are enshrined in the state’s so-called “green amendment”, which passed in 2021. The amendment to the state constitution added protections for New Yorkers’ environmental rights, including the right to clean air and water.

“Everyday, we strive to deliver excellence. But how can we succeed when our very environment is poisoned by others?” said Rich Swinehart, the chief executive of a local business that is part of the group bringing the suit. “It’s time that New York state recognizes its obligation and helps us.”

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the DEC from issuing a permit for the landfill to expand, which the agency is currently considering. Seneca Meadows expects its present capacity to be filled by the end of this year, when its current permit expires.

But it remains unclear how the green amendment will apply in this case, and what its protection means for New Yorkers.

New York Attorney General Leticia James, who represents the DEC in cases like this, has argued in the past that the amendment does not change how the department decides to enforce environmental laws. Those cases, including one over another landfill in the Finger Lakes region, remain ongoing.

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, represented by the New York state attorney general, is taking the position that the green amendment really means nothing,” said Philip Gitlen, the lawyer representing the group bringing the suit against Seneca Meadows and the DEC. “And that it’s business as usual at DEC.”

The department said it does not comment on pending litigation and did not respond to questions about its interpretation of the green amendment.

Local advocates and residents have said Seneca Meadows poses a health and environmental risk to the surrounding community by producing chemical-laden wastewater and emitting odors and greenhouse gasses.

Those residents should be protected by the green amendment, said Assemblymember Anna Kelles, who represents parts of the Finger Lakes.

“We do need to make sure we stand with New Yorkers and uphold our constitutional requirements,” said Kelles. “It’s time to take the actions that we need to take to secure the health of our people.”

Seneca Meadows did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the suit or the allegations against it.