IRC leader prefers Senate proposal

The head of the organization that oversees recycling in four Blair County municipalities mandated to operate curbside programs prefers a Senate proposal for extending the life of a recycling fee collected by the state over a pair of recent House proposals.

The Senate version would amend Act 101 to eliminate a 2020 “sunset” for the $2-per-ton surcharge that provides grant funding needed by

organizations like the Intermunicipal Recycling Committee.

A Republican House proposal calls for extending the sunset for just one year, while a Democratic House proposal calls for extending the sunset by three years.

The House proposals would delay, but retain the sunset at least partly as an incentive to revisit the law to discuss potential reforms of Act 101.

IRC Executive Director John Frederick favors the Senate version, because it would eliminate the difficulties that the sunset threat has created for organizations like his throughout the state.

“The problem with renewing it every few years is

that the Department of Environmental Protection (which administers grants funded by the fee) finds itself every few years planning to end the grant programs,” Frederick said.

The DEP always prepares for the worst, always assumes the sunset will actually occur, and so shrinks the funding it doles out in the years that precede the sunset to create an orderly closeout, Frederick indicated.

The approach of the 2020 sunset, coupled with the General Assembly’s withdrawal of $9 million from the recycling fund to balance the general fund budget, has basically frozen the grant program for two years, which has made it difficult to make ends meet for the IRC, Frederick said.

Such a threat has played out at least three times now, Frederick said.

“It just seems as if we have a few years of grants and a few years of uncertain planning to close the program down,” he said.

Frederick nevertheless credits the thinking behind the House proposals.

Lawmakers may want to retain it as a tool for “accountability,” so they can be “responsible stewards,” he said.

“They don’t want to fund something in perpetuity without studying the positives and negatives,” he said.

And “it’s a great idea to incentivize tweaks (to Act 101) that make sense,” he added.

Still, lawmakers sometimes underestimate the difficulty of coming to agreement on changes, which means that even with the artificially induced urgency of some later sunset, those tweaks aren’t necessarily going to be easy to achieve, he said.

Moreover, lawmakers’ apparent fear of doing away with the sunset altogether doesn’t take into account their ability to remove the fee at any time, if they have the votes, according to Katrina Pope, the IRC education and enforcement coordinator.

“If you remove the sunset, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the fee for all eternity,” Frederick said.

Almost all the members of the state Recycling Advisory Committee are in broad agreement on nearly 20 potential Act 101 tweaks, despite their varying stakes in recycling issues, as heads of groups like the IRC, representatives of the waste disposal industry, delegates from local governments and as Republicans or Democrats, according to Frederick, who is a committee member.

Among those potential tweaks are restoration of a fee that once funded county recycling efforts — although waste industry representatives are not necessarily “keen” to see it in the form of a tip fee surcharge, as before, Frederick said.

Another proposal calls for expanding the mandate for curbside recycling programs like the one operated in the IRC municipalities beyond the current 400, to communities that are smaller in population and less dense, Frederick said. There seems to be enough recycling process capacity to make it work, he said.

Another proposal would allow for rural drop-off “convenience centers” for both recycling and trash — a proposal that is “hand-in-glove” with creating “universal access” to affordable waste disposal and recycling services, he said. One challenge to making such proposals work would be incentivizing local governments to take action, he said.

Yet another proposal is for the softening of county solid waste planning requirements designed to ensure sufficient landfill capacity. Those requirements were created at a time in the late 1980s when new federal environmental regulations were forcing hundreds of local landfills throughout the northeast U.S. to close, creating a capacity crisis, he said.

Since then, the market has provided sufficient alternatives to make it less critical for counties to ensure there’s enough room to place their trash, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.