July 19, 2008

Bill Critical to Future Recycling

By Rory Sweeney, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Jul. 19--Many of the county's popular and successful drop-off recycling programs might disappear if state legislators do not pass a bill that would allow counties to fund the programs.

For years, counties assessed per-ton fees on trash collected within their borders, which helped fund recycling programs. But a 2005 court decision ruled that none of the state's three laws regulating recycling gives counties the authority to assess that fee or another method for collecting it.

The ruling has caused some counties to drop programs, and while others have supported themselves on surplus funds, the savings are running dry, said John Frederick, executive director of the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania.

House Bill 934 was introduced to legalize the fee, but it has reached an impasse, with state House leadership refusing to send it to the Senate while some in the Senate say it can't review the legislation until it's sent over, according to PennEnvironment.

"The reason (it's stalled), quite frankly, is that some legislators are concerned that it will be described as a 'new tax,' " Frederick said. "We happen to think that's not the case because the fee was being charged already."

If the bill remains dormant, "I don't think there's any question that there are going to be a lot of counties who are going to have to scale back a lot of what they're doing, including laying off" professionals in various related fields, Frederick said. "I think you're going to see programs especially like drop-off programs in rural areas that are not going to be able to be funded."

Beth DeNardi, Luzerne County's recycling coordinator, isn't sure what effect loss of the funding will have, but it will be significant.

"It greatly helps us with our collections and with many other things for our department, and without it, I don't know," she said.

PennEnvironment estimates Luzerne County stands to lose about $254,876 through the now illegal fee.

DeNardi said her counterparts in other counties are just as anxious to see the bill become law. "In each of our own ways, we rely on this bill going through."

Frederick, however, concedes that bill likely has opposition in the waste industry. "I still don't think they're going to be happy with this fee. What we tried to do was give them some insurance on the fee," he said.

Three "worthwhile olive branches" were extended in the bill, he said, including a cap to the fee, requiring the money to go into a fund dedicated to recycling and waste management, and giving the waste industry access to discussions on future regulation changes.

Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.


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