How surprising were the results of this year's elections? To put it in perspective. a sitting Republican President has not seen the Republican Party gain seats in the House and Senate during first mid-term elections since Teddy Roosevelt. There were many reasons for the historical Republican showing, but the biggest factors were the Democrats' failure to rally around a single message, the President's popularity and the public's lack of confidence in Democrats on foreign policy and domestic security matters. One thing this election was not about was the economy.
The biggest change in Congress for the solid waste industry is that Republicans are taking control of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee (EPW). Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., served as chairman in the 107th Congress, but Jim Imhofe, R-Okla., now will take over the committee in the 108th Congress. Imhofe has no dog in the interstate waste fight, but three of his GOP colleagues on the panel have a major stake in the movement of waste. EPW committee members John Warner, R-Va., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, represent three of the top five net garbage importing states and all sponsored legislation to restrict the interstate movement of waste in the 107th Congress. Additionally, Senators Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., will be in the minority and have less influence over the committee agenda. Republicans continue to control the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has jurisdiction over the waste import issues. However, the committee has shown little interest in interstate waste since the GOP assumed control of the House in 1994.
With Congress passing a long-term, continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government through Jan. 11, 2003, language to provide funding for six “waste inspectors” at the Canadian-Michigan border will not be provided at this time. The funding was to be added to the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill by Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.
Industry tax credits for landfill gas (LFG) and “power take-off” (PTO) fuel use will be reconsidered when Congress rewrites the Energy Bill next year. The Energy Bill passed by the Senate in the 107th Congress included more than $20 billion in tax credits and incentives. Among the items that were part of the tax package was a credit to encourage the LFG recovery for conversion to electricity and a $250 per vehicle PTO income tax credit for waste collection trucks that use a substantial portion of fuel for nonpropulsion purposes, e.g., compactors. The House version contained more than $35 billion in tax credits and incentives, including LFG credits but not PTO credits. There will be tax incentives in the Energy Bill, although there may be fewer tax breaks in next year's bill.
Another major change will be the ability of Democrats to pursue new ergonomics regulations. With Republicans now setting the agenda in the Senate, ergonomics supporters will find it more difficult to draw attention to the issue through hearings and floor debates. Labor advocate, Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., will cede the Senate Health, Education and Labor committee chair to Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and ergonomics opponent Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., will take over the chair of the Employment, Safety and Training subcommittee.
Republicans have an advantage controlling both houses and the presidency, but they still need support from Democrats to pass legislation. The disadvantage is that the public will assume that the GOP has total responsibility for the direction of the country. This places the GOP in a difficult position — it has been given the steering wheel but not the keys to the country's ignition.
Bill Sells is the director of federal relations for the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail him at [email protected].