Court Upholds New Jersey Garbage Charge

The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court in May issued its long-awaited decision in Paterson, N.J.'s lawsuit over Passaic County's environmental investment charge (EIC). The ruling in the City of Paterson vs. Passaic County declared that EICs, service charges for waste levied on cities regardless of whether they use county facilities, are lawful.

According to the decision, Paterson must pay $3 million for the next 10 years to the county, says Sandra Ayres, attorney for Paterson.

The suit alleged that Passaic's EIC was illegal under state law, which only authorizes certain types of solid waste service charges. The court rejected that argument, concluding that the New Jersey Municipal and County Utilities Authorities Law authorizes such charges, even against towns that have never used or do not intend to use the county's solid waste facilities.

New Jersey counties first were required to pay an EIC in 1998, but "nobody paid," according to Ayres. "Until the issue finally is resolved, there's a reluctance to pay out money you can't get back."

EICs help some New Jersey counties pay off bonds used for operations and maintenance of waste facilities. Without the guaranteed revenue from flow control, many New Jersey facilities are seeking other ways - such as EICs - to cover their debt obligations.

Passaic, along with several other New Jersey counties, imposed EICs on trash after the state's flow control system, which authorized counties to direct where municipal solid waste was disposed, was declared unconstitutional in late 1997. In Passaic County, municipalities and other solid waste generators must pay the county an EIC of about $30 per ton.

Ayres disagrees with the decision, arguing that Paterson should not have to pay the $30 million over 10 years because the city is not using the county's facilities, and should not have to subsidize other communities' use.

"That's an awful lot of money the people of Paterson could spend on necessary services rather than paying out bond holders," she says. "There are no facilities here and we aren't getting any benefit from that money, so we don't feel there's any obligation here."

The Washington, D.C.-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) filed a brief in support of Paterson's position in 1998. NSWMA and several waste companies also filed lawsuits in 1998 challenging EICs imposed by Atlantic, Burlington, Gloucester and Union Counties in New Jersey.

The New Jersey legislature repeatedly has sought to amend its solid waste statutes to specifically authorize EICs, and the NSWMA has opposed these efforts successfully in recent years.

At press time, Ayres had filed an appeal in the New Jersey Supreme Court, asking it to hear the case. Passaic County then can respond to the petition. Once papers are filed, it takes about 30 days for the judges to decide if they will hear the case, she says.

Due to lackluster response from the industry, the Alexandria, Va.-based National Recycling Coalition (NRC) has shelved its idea to create a program aimed at finding high school and college students jobs in recycling.

The NRC conceived the idea after participating in the President's Summit on America's Future in 1997, which focused on creating programs for young people in the United States. The National Recycling Corps would have provided students with internships, apprenticeships and long-term mentoring. NRC launched a campaign last spring to recruit recycling companies, but few companies signed on, according to Will Ferretti, the coalition's executive director. The NRC also applied for a start-up grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., but was turned down.

"Our attempt to raise support for the venture was unsuccessful," Ferretti says. "We folded up the tent [seven months ago]."

Despite the program's failure, Ferretti says the NRC is "still trying to find a way to advance the idea of providing a career pathway for individuals to come into the field of recycling."

For example, the NRC's three-year "Recycling to Build Community" project placed 75 members of AmeriCorp* VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America, the predecessor to AmeriCorp) in nonprofit and government agencies to start recycling, collection, outreach and education programs. The volunteers also worked on market development initiatives in economically distressed communities from September 1995 to November 1998.

Many of those programs involved young people, says David Gurr, program specialist for Washington, D.C.-based AmeriCorp* VISTA. In Arcada, Calif., elementary school children gathered and sorted recyclables, and the money they raised went to recreation, he says. In Arkansas, VISTA members taught developmentally disabled students about recycling.

AmeriCorp* VISTA had supplied the $1.5 million for "Recycling to Build Community" - most of which was used to pay the VISTA members, Gurr says. However, after funding that program for three years, no more funds were available to help start the recycling corps.

"I was heartbroken we had to cut them off," he says about the National Recycling Corps. "[The NRC] had some excellent ideas [in the National Recycling Corps proposal], but time and circumstances just cut it off.

Ferretti says he hopes the success of the AmeriCorp* VISTA program means the Corps might become a reality in the future.

"A number of placements we had were very successful," Ferretti says, noting that some volunteers were hired full-time. "That was part of the objective of the Recycling Corps, to create job opportunities, so we did accomplish that purpose."