May 25, 2005

Governor Ruth Ann Minner will offer legislation to establish a voluntary statewide recycling program while providing county and municipal governments with an option to come up with their own mandatory or voluntary programs, according to a ranking member of her staff.

Lee Ann Walling told the Recycling Public Advisory Council that the proposed law is in "rough draft" form, but said she hopes a bill will be ready for introduction soon after the General Assembly returns from its holiday recess. She said the governor would like to see it enacted before the Assembly calls it a session at the end of June, but Walling declined to say whether she thinks that will happen.

She said David McBride, a recognized advocate of recycling, "wants to sit down and talk with us" about sponsoring the measure in the Democrat-controlled Senate. She added that she has "been in touch with a couple of people" who might agree to be sponsors in the House of Representatives, but declined to identify them. Republicans control the House. The Assembly is completing the first session of a two-year term. Legislation introduced now, whether or not it clears one of the chambers, would carry over into the 2006 session.

"Our intent is not just to ram it through, but to make sure everybody understands it," she said at a council meeting on May 25.

Walling, the governor's policy advisor, said she was "a little bit embarrassed" about not reporting earlier to the recycling council, which, in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, submitted daft legislation providing for a mandatory statewide program to the governor in early January, indicating that the delay resulted from the time it took to test political waters.

"We found that a statewide mandatory program wasn't going anywhere," she said. Delaforum previously reported that the council had all but given up on the prospects for a mandatory program.

Council chairman Paul Wilkinson said that he realized early-on "that the word 'mandatory' is a killer." The council dropped that reference from its report, proposed legislation and public comments, but did not back away from the compulsory nature of its approach.

Although he said he still would like to see a mandatory program as the quickest, most sure way to reach the state's stated goal of diverting 30% of residential solid waste from landfills to new uses, he accepts the political reality.

"We tried to run fast. Now we're going to have to slow down to a fast walk," he said. "There are driving forces to make a voluntary plan work -- if we want to make it work."

He complained that conservation and other pro-recycling organizations did not offer much support after details of the council's proposed legislation reached the general public. "Our bill went out and there was dead silence. There was nothing coming out of environmental groups," he said.

The governor's proposal, which Walling outlined in general terms for the recycling council, does contain one mandatory provision -- a statewide ban on disposing of yard waste in landfills. That would require residents to mulch, compost or find other ways to dispose of grass, leaves and such.

The second-most controversial issue surrounding recycling would be the almost necessary inclusion of a provision for establishing districts in which a single trash collecting firm would hold an exclusive franchise to handle recyclables. Smaller firms argue that puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

The governor's proposed legislation would empower counties, if they desire, to establish recycling districts. Kent County presently has trash-collection districts. Recycling districts also could be established by petition from a so-far unspecified number of residents of unincorporated areas. That could be interpreted as permitting larger suburban communities to do so. A firm which was given exclusive right to collect recyclables in an area would be expected to do so for a lower rate.

Walling emphasized that the proposal calls for recycling districts, not trash districts. "It's not our intention to put anybody out of business," she said. She said some arrangement for protecting smaller firms should be considered but, in response to a question, would not speculate on what that might be.

The proposal also would impose a fee of $3 for each ton of non-recyclable trash on all trash haulers. That, Walling said, would generate an estimated $3 million a year to be used for such things as aiding municipalities to meet set-up costs, counties to establish recycling districts, and the waste authority to operate a processing facility without charge to either firms or individuals who bring recyclables there.

Wilkinson put off to a future meeting polling council members about their reaction to the governor's proposal. In doing so, he indicated that he expects the recycling council to endorse it and to concentrate on its role in mustering public support for its quick enactment into law.

Pasquale Canzano, the waste authority's chief operating officer, said that agency's position will be dependent upon "assurance that the money to meet our costs is there." He pointed out that the original draft legislation provided for the state to underwrite any losses resulting from the cost of operating the processing facility exceeding the amount realized from selling reclaimed material.

George Wright, executive director of the League of Local Governments, said his organization's position will depend upon specifics in the completed version of the proposed legislation. Municipal government officials, he said, are wary about assuming the added costs of a separate recycling operation on top of their own or contracted trash hauling systems. "We have a tough sell out there, but not because we don't want to do it," he said.

Alice Jacobsohn, of the National Solid Waste Management Association, who came from Washington to attend the meeting, similarly declined to take a position pending completion of the draft legislation.

2005. All rights reserved.

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