Waste Issues off Republican Radar

Washington, D.C., is teeming with Republicans following the Nov. 2002 midterm elections. Their presence is making headlines, but the garbage business isn't expected to feel many palpable effects.

Ergonomics issues are not dear to the GOP heart, so advancements in legislation under the new regime are unlikely, according to industry experts. Recent upgrades among waste-to-energy facilities have all but excused that leg of the waste business from the Bush administration's Clean Air Act New Source Review (NSR) changes. And interstate waste should continue to be shelved as a national issue.

Virtually the only thing to bank on when the Environmental and Public Works (EPW) senate committee reconvenes later this month is the approval of funding for the Treasury Postal Appropriations Bill, according to Bill Sells, director of federal relations for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C. “So what you would see is money for waste inspectors along the Michigan border inspecting waste from Canada, which exports a million tons or so a year,” he says. “NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] says we can't discriminate against Mexican and Canadian waste, so [these inspections] could slow the flow of waste across the border.”

A forecast for the success of interstate legislation, however, remains cloudy and hotly contested. James Inhofe, R-Okla., will be taking the chairmanship of the EPW committee from Jim Jeffords, I-Vt. Like other senators from non-importing or exporting states, the new leader most likely will not be motivated to think about interstate waste.

“Inhofe has no dog in the interstate fight, but I think Jeffords understood it's a free market system,” Sells says. He adds that Inhofe's neutrality on interstate waste means the senator could be persuaded to initiate bills or hold hearings if one of his colleagues from high importing states, such as Arlen Specter, R-Pa., lays on a little pressure.

Some believe all the conjecture in the world won't change how business is conducted among states regarding waste transport. Particularly because as a national issue, interstate is a nonstarter.

“The best thing Congress can do for interstate waste is to stop trying to fix it,” says Barry Shanoff, Washington, D.C., attorney and general counsel for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md. “States can be both importers and exporters, and I don't know how you could do up a bill that satisfies them both. I think a one-bill-suits-all is doomed.” Shanoff recommends the most productive solution would be for Congress to authorize states to enter into compacts or agreements between and among themselves. “But the likelihood of that happening is very slim,” he says.

For different reasons, Sells concurs about the likelihood of interstate legislation. “The reality is that the committee is tied up with what they have on their plate already, such as the cross-benefit analysis of Clean Air,” he says. “That's pretty contentious and controversial, so where does interstate fall in line on the priority list for the committee? It's not like [the interstate issue] will cause a disaster.”

The Clean Air Act NSR amendments, which allow older plants to upgrade without enduring costly additional renovations, was criticized harshly by Jeffords. These reforms could have been a factor for waste-to-energy facilities, but according to Maria Zannes, president of the Integrated Waste Services Association, Washington, D.C., they won't be.

“We just went through a $10 billion retrofit on new pollution control operations,” she says. “The EPA does not look to this sector as one they're concerned about for New Source Review. They're concerned with facilities that haven't updated in the past 30 years.”