2006 was quite a legislative year for the solid waste and recycling industry. The number of bills introduced and passed at both the state and federal levels was down from previous years. E-waste was easily the most active issue as many states considered what to do with discarded electronics products. Four states passed laws that required e-waste recycling of one kind or another.
Attempts to pass trash taxes failed, and the industry celebrated the enactment of hauler displacement legislation in two states. On the down side, North Carolina, a state which exports one million tons of trash to neighboring states, decided it had too much in-state disposal capacity and enacted a one-year moratorium on new landfill permits.
In Congress, shipments of Canadian waste to Michigan landfills got the most attention when the House passed a bill allowing states to stop Canadian waste at the border. That bill died in the Senate, probably because senators take international treaties, which protect cross border shipments, more seriously than their colleagues in the House. Unfortunately, the tax credit for recycling equipment went nowhere this year, a victim, in part, of Congress' inability to pass most appropriations bills.
2007 will be a much busier year. Several cash-strapped states will look at trash taxes as a financial option. Although legislators will piously argue that the money will be used for recycling, don't trust them. State legislatures are notorious for diverting “guaranteed” recycling funds into other programs.
E-waste again will be the most debated issue. Several states will approve e-waste recycling laws, with Minnesota and Illinois being the most likely suspects. Both houses of Congress will hold e-waste hearings next year, but are unlikely to pass any bills until 2008 at the earliest. Congress will be loathe to act until the electronics industry, retailers and recyclers agree on what national legislation should look like.
Interstate waste shipments could again be a hot issue in Congress. John Dingell, D-Mich., who chairs the House Committee responsible for solid waste legislation, is a staunch foe of imports of trash from anywhere outside of Michigan, including Canada. He is likely to hold hearings on legislation that would allow states to block Canadian waste and to limit other out-of-state waste, and to push for committee and House approval of such legislation sometime this year.
Waste transfer stations at railroads could be another big issue. Last year, a House subcommittee held a hearing on the environmental and health problems that are caused because these facilities are not required to have a state or local permit. Members of both parties have made it clear to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) that they are not happy with its exemption policy. If the STB persists, members in both houses will pursue legislation eliminating that exemption.
As for the recycling tax credit, the new Congress is likely to be more hostile to new tax credits until the deficit is resolved.
I have one caveat about these forecasts. As a consulting company once said, “Since the estimated operating results are based on estimates and assumptions, which are subject to uncertainty and variation, we do not represent them as results that will actually be achieved.” But I bet I'm more right than wrong!
Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected].
The columnist is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.