Pennsylvania Could Charge Green Fees

PENNSYLVANIA GOV. EDWARD G. RENDELL wants to help the environment by revitalizing communities, improving parks and protecting farmlands in the Commonwealth. But much to the chagrin of many in the industry, he wants waste haulers and producers to shoulder the burden of these green plans.

In his 2004-2005 budget unveiling in February, Gov. Rendell proposed floating $800 million in bonds over the next four years for environmental initiatives. The issuance will add less than 1 percent now and no more than 6 percent in total outstanding debt to the state's portfolio, which will be paid back by tipping fees. The governor has suggested raising the state tipping fee from $6.50 per ton to $11.50 per ton.

Pennsylvania's “Growing Greener” program began under a former administration and invested in stream cleanup, farmland protection, upgraded water and sewer systems, and improved parks, among other areas. When first created, the program was appropriated $139 million and, over the years, the budget has decreased to $107 million. Absent new funding, Rendell says the total will decrease by an additional $27 million next year.

“We must fill this gap. In additional to protecting Growing Greener, we should also expand and improve it,” Rendell told the state legislature. Therefore, he proposed Growing Greener II, which will allocate approximately $330 million to protect state parks, forests, farmland and open spaces; $50 million to reduce unsafe dams and dilapidated fish hatcheries; $300 million to cleanup abandoned mines and streams poisoned by acid mine drainage; $25 million to the Recycling Fund to support growing industry and assist municipalities that have recently started new, mandated recycling programs; and $170 million to improve community parks and housing efforts in older neighborhoods.

Some see the environmental efforts as commendable. However, some organizations oppose the new trash fees, including the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Industries Association (EIA) and the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association (PWIA), Harrisburg, Pa, a chapter of the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) that represents private sector waste haulers and landfill operators in Pennsylvania.

“Piling another $5 per ton on top of [the] recent trash tax increase would pinch residents, strain municipal budgets and put Pennsylvania business at a serious competitive disadvantage,” says Mary Webber, PWIA spokeswoman. Gov. Rendell's proposal comes only 18 months after state tipping fees were increased by $4 per ton, making the new total an “excessive tax,” she adds.

A majority of 1,356 residents reportedly polled by Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn., originally opposed the proposal. When told, however, that haulers would be paying for the new programs through raised tipping fees, 59 percent of polled residents said they approved of the plan.

Kate Philips, the governor's press secretary, says that “if we don't protect the environment and cleanup the mistakes of the past, [Pennsylvania] cannot compete. Being opposed to this plan at a time when the state is losing revenue would be imprudent.”

Philips points out that half of the state's municipal solid waste comes from out of state, namely New York and New Jersey. Therefore, half of the increased tipping fees would be paid by out-of-state residents.

Nevertheless, “Raising the cost of doing business in a state does not seem to be the right tactic to attract new business and development,” Webber says.