Testimony at the Maine Legislature
by Jon Hinck, NRCM toxics project director
Senator Martin. Representative Koffman. Committee Members. My name is Jon Hinck. I am Staff Attorney and Toxics Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The Council is neither for nor against LD 1806.
At the outset, I would like to commend Representative Curley and the cosponsors of this bill for taking the initiative in bringing this issue back to the Committee. We agree that Maine needs to institute a system to facilitate collection of household hazardous waste statewide. As I understand it, the driving force behind the measure is the expressed concerns of constituents. If so, state legislators are getting a sample of a frequent experience of public officials in municipal governments all over the state. “Where can I take this stuff?” is a common refrain.
Despite the longstanding concern, the answer to many citizens of the state is “We cannot help you.” Most of the State lacks consistent access to a drop off place for residential stores of pesticides, solvents, oil-based paints, paint strippers, chemical cleaning compounds, waste oil, antifreeze and other hazardous household products. When handled improperly, these flammable, poisonous, reactive, explosive, or carcinogenic compounds can threaten the health and safety of municipal trash handlers, damage sewer systems and cause harm to the environment and public health.
With the exception of the few municipalities that sponsors consistent, timely collection day, Maine households are left storing these hazardous materials indefinitely or finding ways to discard them with their trash or dump them somewhere.
So we are thankful that this issue is back on the agenda. The reason we do not support L.D. 1806 is that the bill in its current form is silent on the key issue: funding. We all know that household hazardous waste needs to be collected and turned over to reputable recyclers to be managed. But because these wastes have negative value, the recyclers must be paid to take it.
To be effective, municipally-run collection programs must be readily accessible to residents, and often require promotion and education. Consistent, well-run and well-utilized programs are the exception in Maine. Research done by the University of Maine’s Department of Resource Economics and Policy, and presented to this Committee more than a year ago, estimated that Mainers collectively dispose of approximately 20 million pounds of hazardous waste with their trash every year. There is no reason to believe that this substantial environmental hazard will diminish on its own.
Maine needs both permanent collection centers and more convenient collection days. This cannot be achieved without a reliable funding. The Council supported, and would still support, the concept of a “user fee,” like the one proposed in LD 1549 last year. As that measure was conceived, fees of 20 cents per gallon of paint and container of pesticide would raise $500,000 annually. DEP estimated that this would allow the State to defray approximately half of the annual municipal operating costs for household hazardous waste programs and enable some expansion of the programs.
Where such programs exist today, funding comes from local tax revenues, typically raised via property taxes. For example in 2002, Bangor spent $33,000 of locally generated tax revenue to fund the city’s household hazardous waste collection program. The cost for all 16 communities that participate in the regional collection program in that area was $76,000.
There are a number of reasons why it is good public policy to put fees on the products that give rise to the problem as opposed to using general revenues. For one, it is obviously fairer to have high volume users of the products that generate the problem waste pay a proportionately higher share of the costs associated with those products. In addition, even a small fee such as the one proposed, creates some incentive to minimize the use of the product, for example, by using up leftover product before buying more. Where consumers are made aware of the fee, it also serves as a reminder of the need for special handling of wastes associated with these products. In the absence of a revenue-generating fee, the financial burden of funding these programs falls on all local taxpayers, including those that do not generate much waste. Finally, those who own summer homes or keep boats in Maine, but pay taxes elsewhere, will pay a share in the user fee based system.
States all over the country face this same issue. Most long ago put in place statewide programs to fund and facilitate local collection programs. Typically the programs are funded directly out of general tax revenues, or money is taken from oil spill pollution liability funds, state solid waste programs, or from such funds as the unclaimed revenues from bottle bills. All such funding concepts rely on public money and none is obviously superior, fairer or less burdensome than the dedicated fees provided for in LD 1549.
There is a widely shared view that the State needs to put in place a solution for the household hazardous waste problem. The solution will require funding. We encourage the Committee to take up this matter and pass out legislation that would provide ongoing revenue to cover the costs or at least provide substantial assistance to municipalities who by default grapple with this problem. Thank you.
A.C. Files & G.K. Kriner, “Cost Analysis for Household Hazardous Waste Collection: A Final Report”, January 2002.