Seneca Lake Guardian’s Yvonne Taylor Among City & State’s 2023 Top Energy & Environment Power 100 List

57. Yvonne Taylor
Vice President, Seneca Lake Guardian

Yvonne Taylor at rally
When Crestwood sought to store and transport fracked gas at a U.S. salt mine on Seneca Lake in 2011, Yvonne Taylor mobilized hundreds of residents and businesses to oppose gas storage on the site. Five years later, Taylor co-founded Seneca Lake Guardian to protect the Finger Lakes from pollutants. She has since pressured the state Department of Environmental Conservation to block an air permit for Greenidge Generation's bitcoin mining facility, asked the public for alternatives to the plant and sought to expedite the closure of Seneca Meadows, the state's largest landfill.

Background on Seneca Meadows Landfill

The Seneca Meadows landfill, located in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of American Women's Rights, is the largest of 27 landfills in New York State. It is permitted to accept 6,000 tons of waste and produces up to 200,000 gallons of polluted leachate – formed when rainwater filters through waste – per day. A quarter of the landfill – which stands at nearly 30 stories tall – is trash from NYC, followed by four other states.

Seneca Meadows was previously required to stop receiving waste and halt operations by December 31, 2025. However, Waste Connections, the Texas based parent company of Seneca Meadows Inc., spent around $200,000 in 2021 promoting pro-landfill candidates who won seats in Town Board and County races and are now supporting the Valley Infill, SMI's planned seven-story high expansion. The expansion would keep the landfill operating through 2040 with allowable dumping on the Valley Infill (the former toxic Tantalo superfund site), rising another 70 feet into the viewscape.

Waste Connections is further coordinating with Seneca Energy, LLC to build out a method for burning landfill gas that would completely violate New York's climate law, and monetarily incentivize the expansion and extension of the landfill. Even with the planned closure in 2025, the mountain of garbage promises years of problems and remediation that could take generations to mitigate.

Leachate and wastewater runoff from the landfill contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause widespread contamination of drinking water and harmful health impacts. According to the 2021 Annual Report, Seneca Meadows landfill produces 75 million gallons of leachate each year which is distributed not just to Seneca Falls but also to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County, and the leachate eventually ends up in sources for drinking water. Only a third of the leachate is treated, while the rest of the untreated leachate is trucked to communities across the state and in New Jersey, which bear the cost burden of filtering it out of local drinking sources.

According to the CDC, exposure to PFAS chemicals is linked to harmful health impacts such as cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma, decreased immune functioning, and thyroid disease.

There are currently no federal or state regulations requiring PFAS testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. This leaves municipalities in the dark about where discharges are coming from, and unable to take meaningful action to protect their drinking water from contamination.

The "PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act" (S227A/A3296) would require annual testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. There are no federal or state regulations currently requiring PFAS disclosures from all facilities that might be discharging it.

A recent Rockefeller Institute policy brief showed that New York is one of nine states that falls well short of the EPA guidance on enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS.

SMI is located two miles from Cayuga-Seneca Canal and three miles from every school in Seneca Falls and Waterloo, potentially exposing students to airborne particulates and unseen gasses known to contribute to respiratory illness, asthma, and migraine headaches. The landfill cannot process all of the methane that is generated and is forced to burn almost a billion cubic feet per year in 5 flares, contributing to climate change.

SMI is harming the Finger Lakes' natural resources that have led to the region being under consideration for a National Heritage Area Designation, and which the $3 billion, 60,000-employee wine and agritourism economy relies on. The odor from the landfill can be smelled from miles away, including at Thruway exit 41, the northern gateway to the Finger Lakes. Large, sustainable employers in the area are finding it difficult to recruit and retain employees, because nobody wants to raise a family near a dangerous landfill.

SMI's expansion is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the New York state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.