Guarding Industry Interests

WHEN TIP O'NEILL, then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said that “all politics is local,” he easily could have been talking about garbage. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which is the federal solid waste and recycling law, makes it clear that solid waste, including recycling, is best regulated at the state and local level. RCRA gives the federal government only a limited role in managing our trash.

As a result, NSWMA and its members work hard to ensure that state legislators do not enact laws that will create inefficiencies, add to the cost of solid waste and recycling programs, or lessen existing public health and environmental protections. NSWMA accomplishes this through state chapter legislative committees and chapter lobbyists. The committees analyze proposed legislation to determine its impact. Based on the committee's recommendations, the chapter decides whether or not to take a position on a bill. Chapter lobbyists then work with state legislators to educate them about the positive and negative impacts of proposed bills. We don't always win, but we try to make sure that your voice is heard and respected in legislative corridors.

States have gone through two big waves of solid waste legislation. The first came after RCRA was enacted in 1976. In response, many states enacted comprehensive solid waste management laws. Then, in the late '80s, after the ill-fated voyage of the garbage barge, they expanded their solid waste laws to include recycling. As a result, most bills now propose minor revisions to existing state laws.

Last year was no different from the last dozen, as more than 1,000 solid waste-related bills were introduced in state legislatures. That may seem like a lot, but most of them went nowhere. They were poorly written, duplicated other bills or had little political support. However, about 100 bills had to be taken seriously.

As in the previous decade, recycling was the most popular subject, accounting for more than one-fourth of the bills. Regulation of landfills, transfer stations and MRFs and “comprehensive waste management” (usually amendments to state and local plans) also were popular topics. NSWMA does not expect to see any sweeping changes to state laws proposed in 2006. Most bills will tinker here and there to try to improve things.

One increasingly popular subject is electronic product (e-waste) recycling and disposal. Last year, more than 100 e-waste bills were introduced at the state level. Few passed, and they mostly set up study committees. This year, most states will be content to see how existing laws in California and Maine work before they take action. Or they may decide to follow Maryland's example and impose a tax on some electronic product manufacturers and use the money to pay for e-waste collection and recycling. Minnesota, whose legislature deadlocked last year on e-waste recycling proposals, is the state most likely to enact either the California or Maine law this year.

Trash taxes were a hot issue in several states last year. Except in Ohio, most state legislators realized that local governments have to pay trash taxes too and that the tax would be an unfunded mandate and a hardship on their residents and businesses. Nonetheless, more trash taxes will be proposed this year. Ostensibly they will be used to fund recycling programs but often are used for other purposes. In all cases, local governments will end up raising taxes to pay the new trash tax.

NSWMA also is involved in local issues. Attempts to legislate noise restrictions have become a big problem recently. NSWMA's New York City chapter won a major victory when proposed noise legislation was modified to lessen its impact on haulers and to avoid increasing the number of trucks on the streets during rush hour.

In odd-number years, every state legislature is in session. Even-numbered years offer only slight relief because 44 state legislatures meet every year. Residents of Arkansas, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas can breathe easy. Your legislatures will not meet this year.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at: [email protected].