Q&A: Bruce Parker

As WasteExpo kicks off, we thought it would be a good time to talk with Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Environmental Industry Associations, about the state of the waste industry. Read on to get his take on the biggest issues facing the industry, the growing emphasis on safety and the impact of last year's Supreme Court flow control decision.

What are the biggest issues facing the solid waste industry?

Climate change; political and social pressure to divert more materials from disposal; worker safety; increasing commodity costs; increasing fuel costs, i.e., the price of diesel has increased by more than $1.oo a gallon since October 2007 and more than tripled since 2002.

What role do you foresee the industry playing in future efforts to address climate change?

The industry is now playing an important role in addressing the challenges ushered in by climate change concerns. In the regulatory arena, a group of NSWMA’s larger members and association staff - called the Solid Waste Industry for Climate Solutions (SWIC) - has been very active in tracking and submitting formal comments on state and federal legislative and regulatory developments that would affect the industry’s operations. Currently, 39 states are involved in initiatives that are creating uniform greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory rules and a reporting system as part of regional compacts or on their own. At the same time, the U.S. EPA is developing a similar rule, and Congress has been holding hearings on various market-driven schemes to reduce GHG emissions. Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama each support federal action.

In addition to commenting on the general need for a standardized protocol for reporting, registering and verifying GHG emissions, and the need for transparency, SWIC has been raising specific technical issues regarding landfill GHG emissions so that future regulatory requirements are fair and reasonable, i.e., a “one size fits all” is not workable.

The efforts to improve worker safety have really increased in recent years, as evidenced in part by the number of WasteExpo sessions devoted to the topic during that time. In what aspects of safety do you think the industry has most improved and what areas need more emphasis?

Many companies are doing a better job of investing in safety through new equipment, better training and increased emphasis on changing employee behavior. The injury rate of the solid waste industry, as measured by the federal government, has been declining by 7 to 9 percent annually for the past few years.

We still need to work on changing bad habits developed by some workers. Employees needlessly die every year because they fail to lockout/tagout a truck, aren’t wearing their seatbelt or fall off the riding step when the truck is backing. NSWMA’s safety program, including our "Be Safe Be Proud" videos, is targeted at changing these types of dangerous behavior.

It’s now been just more than a year since the Supreme Court’s flow control decision in the Oneida-Herkimer case. What is your take on the impact of that decision so far?

The decision authorizes flow control to publicly-owned and publicly-operated disposal facilities. To date there has been a handful of localities that have either newly imposed flow control or revived an earlier flow control laws that were still in litigation when Oneida was decided, and there likely will be other communities imposing flow control in the future. But overall, the decision has not had a significant impact nationally.

WasteExpo is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, so we’ll use that as an opportunity to ask a long-term history question: What do you think have been the most important changes in the industry over the years?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Philadelphia v. New Jersey (1978), which held that waste enjoys the same constitutional protection as other goods in interstate commerce. The promulgation of Subtitle D (RCRA), which resulted in today’s modern landfills. The development of recycling as a vested environmental ethic. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in C&A Carbone v.Town of Clarkstown (1994), which declared flow control unconstitutional. The advent of electronics and automation in waste management equipment. And the privatization of collection and disposal.

Give us a sense as well of how the show has changed over the years.

I think WasteExpo is a bigger and better show now than in the past, and, without question, it is still the dominant solid waste show. In addition to over 250, 000 net square feet of exhibition space, attendance has grown and more educational sessions are available than in past years. The EREF auction brings excitement to the floor and within the past five years or so, the Medical Waste Conference was co-located. My favorite time is Tuesday morning at the Inspirational and Awards Breakfast when industry leaders and refuse truck drivers are honored. This even has grown from several hundred to over 7,000 attendees over the past few years.