The Midterm Impact

Predicting exactly what impact the new Democratic Congress will have on the solid waste industry is about as difficult as correctly guessing who will win the 2008 presidential election. Yet, in January, lawmakers — agendas in hand — will convene to begin making decisions that could offer financial benefits, stricter regulations and anything in between.

Because many of the issues involving solid waste do not inspire broad partisan battles, control of the houses may not have as much effect on the industry as individuals themselves do. “Clearly a particular committee chair and their preferences can have a big impact,” says Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association.

Some incoming chairs likely to stir things up are Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Dingell, for instance, co-sponsored legislation (H.R. 2491) recently approved by the House that would prevent other countries from exporting trash without first obtaining a state's approval. Companion legislation (S. 1198) was referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. According to John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America, the House and Senate remain divided on the issue. Miller expects Dingell to hold hearings on a Canadian waste ban in the spring or summer.

Meanwhile, Boxer and Bingaman already have asked President Bush in a letter to help pass “meaningful climate change legislation” next year. Boxer also has publicly vowed to work with members of both parties to pass legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could hold climate change hearings as early as January. “The issue is back in play, and I see a lot more interest building in that area,” Skinner says. He adds that there could be interest in the United States joining an international program.

Also, the Democratic focus on greenhouse gas emissions could be favorable for landfill gas facilities. Currently, the facilities must be placed in service by the end of 2007 to be eligible for tax credits, but industry organizations are pushing for an extension.

“It depends on where they [lawmakers] make their efforts and how inclusive they are,” Miller says. He adds that the extensions also depend on how serious Democrats are about addressing the budget deficit, which could tighten purse strings. “The last administration to have a budget surplus was the Clinton administration, and there is some Democratic pride in that.”

On the other hand, the credits passed as part of energy legislation two years ago and enjoyed support from both parties. “I think landfill gas and waste-to-energy will be a high priority,” Skinner says.

Another issue that could be addressed by the new Congress is national e-waste legislation. Action will depend on consensus within the electronics industry and perhaps the number of states that pass legislation, rather than party politics, industry experts say. Illinois, which re-elected Gov. Rod Blagojevich, could be the next state to pass an e-waste law. Blagojevich recently signed an order requiring state government employees to recycle their used electronics and urged the Illinois General Assembly to adopt statewide regulations.

Skinner cautions that, in general, controversial issues, such as eliminating tax credits for the oil industry, will have difficulty moving through both houses. “While there are now Democratic chairs of all the committees, there's still a pretty slim majority in both houses,” Skinner says. “Those issues that people agree on have a much better chance of passing.”