Circular File: 2010 Redux

Many state legislators wanted to give their constituents the impression that they were protecting the environment, but they were more interested in other bills

2010 was an odd year for recycling and solid waste legislation. More than 1,600 bills were introduced in the state legislatures — the most since I have been keeping track. Yet fewer than 235 of those bills were signed into law, the fewest enactments I’ve ever observed in the same period. Apparently, a lot of state legislators wanted to give their constituents the impression that they were protecting the environment, but were more interested in seeing other bills get signed into law.

As usual, most of the new laws were relatively minor amendments of existing legislation. Some, however, were more significant. Delaware mandated statewide curbside recycling and discontinued its existing, poorly enforced container deposit law. Meanwhile, Connecticut increased the number of items subject to its mandatory recycling law.

In Florida, the state legislature lifted the ban on yard waste disposal so long as the yard waste is put into a landfill that converts methane into a beneficial use. Impressed by an anti-landfill gas recovery study commissioned by compost advocates, Florida governor Charlie Crist vetoed the anti-ban legislation. However, the veto was overturned by the state legislature after Crist’s failed independent campaign for the U.S. Senate.

E-scrap recycling legislation was enacted in four more states: South Carolina, Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania. Now, almost two-thirds of the national population live in the 24 states with e-cycling laws. These laws differ in their details, creating a hodgepodge of e-cycling requirements and adding to the pressure on Congress to pass a national law. Nonetheless, until e-cycling stakeholders agree on a solution, Congress will not act.

Manufacturer responsibility advocates hailed the enactment of “framework” legislation in Maine. This law sets up a system that proponents hope will expand the universe of covered materials beyond the usual suspects of electronics and mercury-containing products. Vermont saw an unsuccessful attempt to replace its container deposit law with a statewide manufacturer responsibility law for packaging and printed materials. In that state, deposit advocates saw no reason to end a highly successful program. For that matter, New York officials announced the state treasury was richer by $120 million as a result of last year’s law extending its container deposit to water bottles. That law also required 80 percent of unredeemed deposits to be returned to the state and placed in its general fund.

In Seattle, the City Council allowed consumers to opt-out of receiving Yellow Pages directories and imposed a mandatory recovery fee on the directory’s publishers. The City Council apparently didn’t realize that in a digital age, the market is already opting out of phone books.

California voters, however, threw a wrench in the monkey works with their approval of Initiative 26, which defines most regulatory fees as taxes and requires them to be approved by a two-thirds legislative vote. The initiative appears to apply to a recently enacted law requiring paint manufacturers to assess a fee covering the cost of collecting unused paint. If the fee needs a legislative super majority to pass, it is doomed.

Florida, however, outdid every state with its new 75 percent recycling goal. This is easily the highest statewide goal. The legislation also created a formula for calculating county recycling rates, which defines waste-to-energy as recycling. As a result, several Florida counties already have achieved a recycling rate greater than 100 percent. With an accounting system like that, those legislators could easily erase the national budget deficit.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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