June 10, 2005

If all goes according to plan, the General Assembly will receive proposed recycling legislation before the current session ends. Lawmakers then will have at least six months -- and, more likely, nine to 12 months -- to talk about it before actually having to vote on the issue.

If they go along with anything close to Governor Ruth Ann Minner's game plan when they do vote, they will punt the two most controversial elements of the proposal and let county and local governments decide whether to run with them.

"Let's face it; legislators are not clamoring for a recycling bill," Lee Ann Walling, the governor's policy advisor, told the Recycling Public Advisory Council.

The 24-page draft of a Senate bill which she placed before the council for comment and endorsement before the final version is prepared was carefully crafted to deal with "legislative realities," she said. "It's a complicated bill. It has a number of moving parts."

It is too late in the session to expect enactment before the scheduled adjournment on June 30. Bills introduced into the first of two annual sessions and not acted upon carry over to the second session.

As Delaforum previously reported that it would, the bill calls for establishing voluntary residential recycling programs throughout the state. Other than provisions for educating the public about the merits of recycling, it is vague on such details as what, if any, incentives might be offered to achieve a goal of diverting nearly a third of residential waste from landfills and reusing it.

Clearly the key provisions in the draft distributed at the council meeting on Jun. 9 are contained in six of its 502 lines:

● "Municipalities electing to implement a curbside recycling program are in no way precluded from requiring mandatory participation by residents within their jurisdictions." As used there, 'municipalities' include not only cities and towns but also county governments.

● "If [a] county government determines as a result of a request through petition or of its own volition, after a public hearing, that it is in the public interest to create the proposed [recycling] district, it shall pass a resolution to that effect."

It is generally agreed by members of the council and others that mandatory recycling would be politically difficult to achieve on a statewide basis. While that is regarded as probably true on most local levels as well, it also is agreed that some form of compulsion will  eventually be required if the goal is to be achieved and, especially, if it is to be achieved within three years after a law is enacted.

The governor's draft does contain a mandatory element in that it would flatly ban disposing of most forms of yard waste at any of the three Delaware Solid Waste Authority landfills.

Walling pointed out that both tax collection and the state's ban on smoking in public places can be considered as unpopular, but both rely on and receive a large measure of voluntary compliance. Pasquale Canzano, the waste authority's chief operating officer, pointed out that a consultant with a national reputation in the field concluded that, even with a mandatory system, "if you get 65% of the people doing what they're supposed to do, you're doing well."

Including a section setting up a procedure for county government to establish recycling districts, in which a bidding process would be used to grant to one collection firm an exclusive franchise to pick up recyclables, brings that issue to the fore.

The draft legislation provides that 25 property owners within an unincorporated area that can be defined by "ascertainable boundaries" can petition county government to establish such a district. The government would contract with the successful bidder; apportion the contracted-for fee among all properties within the area served, whether or not an owner elects to use the service; and levy a separate tax to be collected along with property tax.

Walling said New Castle County officials have indicated that they favor "going all the way" and including all trash collecting within a system of districts. Smaller collection firms oppose such arrangements on the grounds that they would be unable to outbid the large firms, which presently hold most of the market, and would be driven out of business.

Pat Todd, of the League of Women Voters, noted that the draft legislation would prohibit any one firm from obtaining franchises to serve an entire county, but said a literal reading of that provision would permit a near monopoly on the business. She and Canzano both said legislation should stick by the council's previous position that any districting provide for a 'level playing field' for all qualified firms.

If the legislation is to prove controversial among the general public, discussion at the council meeting indicated that there is not initial in-house agreement.

"There are issues that need to be taken care of in the bill," Canzano said. He specified uncertainty over the extent to which the waste authority would be liable if it accepted contraband material buried in a truckload of general trash. Neither the authority nor the collection firms should or could be expected to inspect everything a householder puts out for collection, he said. James Werner, director of the air and waste management division of the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, said his agency does not have the manpower to enforce down to that level.

George Wright, executive director of the League of Local Governments, declined to comment on provisions of the draft legislation on the grounds that he was seeing the material for the first time and would have to go through it to gauge its impact on municipal governments. He said he would deliver his organization's response directly to the governor's office.

Todd objected to the fact that Minner was not forthcoming with proposed legislation sooner. "I'm very disappointed that nothing will be done for another year," she said.

Paul Wilkinson, who represents the Delaware Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement and chairs the council, said he hoped the diverse council can reach some kind of consensus to convey to the governor before the final version is produced. He said he "is willing to accept compromise, [but] we can't compromise down to zero."

The governor's draft is significantly different from the recommendation that the council, in conjunction with the waste authority and the natural resources department, presented to the governor  at the beginning of the year.

Walling said Minner wants her proposed legislation to go before the Assembly with the blessings of the recycling council.

2005. All rights reserved.

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