June  17, 2004

With a last-minute compromise clearing the way, the state Senate approved a measure which its sponsor said is the first step on the road toward requiring all households in the state to recycle certain trash. It is uncertain whether the House of Representatives will complete the process of enacting it as the General Assembly session winds down.

"We have heard from our constituents that they want mandated recycling in Delaware. Working together we're going to develop a mandated-recycling plan," Senator David McBride told his colleagues just before they voted unanimously on June 16 to approve an amended version of his bill.

Some of the votes, however, evidently were cast reluctantly as some of the lawmakers described the measure as token. David Sokola called it as a piece of "feel-good legislation." Colin Bonini questioned whether the Assembly which takes seats in January will follow through by passing legislation to actually implement a recycling program.

Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Recycling Public Advisory Council, merely shrugged when asked during his testimony what will happen if that is not forthcoming. He did indicate that he feels an effective recycling program of some sort is achievable.

"If we fail to meet our mandate then we, the legislators, fail to meet our responsibility. ... We'll all have the responsibility in January to do the rest of the job," McBride said.

His measure would simply establish a July 1, 2008, goal of diverting 30% of residential municipal solid waste from landfills and 40% of all municipal solid waste. Wilkinson explained that the term 'municipal' is a technicality to align a Delaware law with its use by the federal Environmental Protection Agency's to describe types of waste rather than where it comes from.

The compromise, which was reached privately just before the Senate session began, called for McBride to sponsor a floor-amendment having the all-waste goal reduced from 50% and the target date pushed back a year from what was contained in the original version of the bill. A provision giving the Delaware Solid Waste Authority six months to promulgate rules and regulations to reduce the amount of waste going into its landfills was dropped. Instead the authority, the gubernatorial advisory council and the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control are instructed to jointly develop by the end of 2004 a proposal for legislative action necessary to finance and implement a recycling program. They already are doing that under an agreement approved in January although the process is about two months behind schedule.

The amendment, which was approved unanimously, apparently headed off continued opposition to passage of McBride's bill by the waste authority, a self-supporting autonomous state agency. Authority officials earlier had argued that the original version would have constituted an 'unfunded mandate' to accomplish ultimate and interim goals without the necessary financing or enforcement authority.

After Michael Parkowski, the authority's general counsel, testified before McBride's natural resources committee that the agency would not be able to comply under those terms, the committee deadlocked on a vote to bring the measure before the full Senate and McBride told Delaforum he did not have the votes necessary to force the issue. Later, however, three of the five members of the committee did vote to bring it forward 'on its merits'; that is, without a recommendation.

The authority appeared to signal continued opposition when Parkowski on June 15 circulated on a very limited basis via e.mail the draft of proposed legislation which, among other things, reportedly includes a sure-to-be-controversial provision that the state's three county governments be billed for the cost of collecting and processing recyclables. Those costs presumably would be passed on as a component of the counties' property taxes. An article based on the draft was published by the News-Journal.

Pasquale Canzano, the authority's chief operating officer, told Delaforum after the Senate vote that that was all coincidence. Parkowski, Canzano pointed out, had agreed to circulate the draft legislation among council members by June 15 in preparation for discussion at a meeting previously scheduled for June 23. The lawyer's promise was made before action on McBride's bill was scheduled and was being fulfilled in timely fashion, he said.

Canzano said he did not know how the News-Journal obtained a copy of the draft. He denied that he or the authority 'released' it. Delaforum has been unable to obtain a copy as this article was being prepared. Pat Todd, the council member who has been keeping track of McBride's bill, told Delaforum that she did not get a copy in the initial distribution. Wilkinson said that he did.

Be that as it may, no one except Wilkinson was called to testify during the Senate's consideration of McBride's bill and no mention of the draft legislation was made during the relatively brief debate. Canzano and natural resources secretary John Hughes were in the chamber.

That left the lawmakers in the position of having to cast an election-year vote on a piece of proverbial motherhood-and-apple-pie legislation.

Although he said he personally favors recycling and voted in favor of McBride's bill, Bonini said it would be a disservice to the public to enact legislation imposing a mandate to institute a recycling program "without telling the people about the very significant cost [and] the inconvenience of sorting [their] trash."

Sokola said the lawmakers "are not telling our constituents what it costs to do nothing." Harris McDowell described McBride's bill as a necessary first step to assure that members of the next Assembly "won't get cold feet" when called upon to enact implementation legislation.

Charles Copeland, however, cautioned against creating an impression that either the current or future legislation would be an answer to the vexing question of what to do about the waste authority's Cherry Island Marsh landfill. "Recycling is not a panacea. We will still have trash [and] the landfill is running out of space. We're not buying a lot of time," he said. He advocated looking toward other means to dispose of trash, including out-of-state landfills which are "there and asking for trash."

Wilkinson pointed out that the council he chairs, the waste authority and the natural resources department are working jointly to develop mandatory-recycling recommendations, whether or not the measure which would require their doing so becomes law. McBride's bill "tells us where we're headed; [the joint effort] will tell us how we do it and how we pay for it," he testified.

2004. All rights reserved.

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