TRANSPORTATION: Flow Control Grows Grassroots Support Group

Find a controversial subject and a grassroots organization is not far behind. Flow control, one of the industry's most talked about subjects, has grown its own grassroot support. Friends of Locally Owned (government) Waste (F.L.O.W.), a grassroots coalition of public officials who support waste flow control legislation, has garnered the support of 17 states in six months.

F.L.O.W.'s primary purpose is to act as an information clearinghouse and support system to provide officials with accurate information so they can petition their congressional leaders for legislation. F.L.O.W. also provides sample letters and position papers to local officials interested in writing to their congressional representatives. It connects local officials in the same state with each other through its nationwide data bank.

F.L.O.W., which was created by the landfill construction and management firm, Santek Environmental, Cleveland, Tenn., has come to life from the local level's growing concern that government will lose control of its disposal facilities and waste streams. The group recently was asked to testify before a U.S. House Subcommittee about the proposed flow control legislation.

Draft flow control bills include H.R. 2649 by Rep. David Minge (D-Minn.), H.R. 1357 by Rep. Alex McMillan (R-N.C.), and H.R. 2848 by Rep. Philip Sharp (D-Ind.). Two of the bills would give the state and local governments the ability to control the movement of solid waste created within their jurisdictions. Sharp's bill would amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act so governors can limit the disposal of out-of-state wastes disposal.

Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) also introduced a flow control bill (S. 1634) last November that is similar to the McMillan bill. It would give states the right to control the movement of solid waste within, or imported into, states.

The flow control issue has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Beginning last December, the court began oral arguments on the C & A Carbone Inc. vs. Town of Clarks-town case. It is in the process of reviewing a state court decision that upheld an ordinance banning waste exports. An outcome is expected early in the year.

"Flow control rights are imperative to the success and livelihood of small- to mid-sized, publicly owned landfills," said Ken Higgins, Santek president. "Until now, the only special interest group being heard by legislators are the large waste lobbying organizations. It's time to tell the other side of the story."

U.S. Rep. Al Swift (D-Wash.) said Congress will likely address flow control legislation during its next session. His comments came during a November hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee for Transportation and Hazardous Materials about proposed legislation.

"It's likely Congress will be forced to address flow control in some fashion during its next session," Swift said. "The issue isn't going away; it must be dealt with."

Without flow control, solid waste naturally flows to the cheapest disposal point - not necessarily the most environmentally sound option, according to F.L.O.W. member Howard Wright, city attorney for Springfield, Mo. In 1990, Springfield citizens voted overwhelmingly to build a materials recovery and compost facility which was to be funded by $17.9 million in revenue bonds. Now the city is losing 300 tons of waste per day to large haulers who own cheaper landfills outside of the city.

"Our ability to repay the bonds is in jeopardy," Wright said. "The city needs the authority to direct solid waste to a disposal site in accordance with our community plan. Without flow control legislation, Springfield and other communities will not be able to implement environmentally conscious systems for proper solid waste disposal."

For Ron Mace, director of the Great River Solid Waste Authority's solid waste program, and member of F.L.O.W., flow control legislation would enable the authority to fully implement all of the programs in its solid waste plan.

"We're losing approximately 25 percent of our revenues a year, or $687,000, to cheaper, outside disposal sites," he said.

The revenue deficit is forcing the authority to curtail its curbside recycling and public education programs as well as its collection services.

"Legislation will give local government the ability to fully implement their programs which enables them to go head to head with privates," Mace said. "Just letting privates do their own thing without any control clashes with the mandates placed upon local government."

F.L.O.W. currently has supporters in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Vermont, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Massachusetts.