by Sarah Lakeman, NRCM Sustainable Maine Policy Advocate
Senator Boyle, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. My name is Sarah Lakeman, I am the Sustainable Maine Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify Neither For Nor Against LD 1483.
NRCM was involved in helping pass Maine’s 1989 solid waste management law and we continue to have a strong interest in preserving the integrity of our solid waste management hierarchy (38 §2101). We believe substantial further progress can be achieved in the areas of reduce, reuse, recycling, and composting, and we recognize the value of the state’s remaining three waste to energy facilities.
According to the 2014 Materials Management Plan, presented to the Committee yesterday, these three facilities currently eliminate essentially as much MSW (net reduction of 355,000 tons) from the waste stream as currently is being sent to our landfills (359,000 tons). In other words, if the waste to energy plants were to shut down in coming years, the volume of waste going to permanent storage in landfills would double—completely overturning the entire purpose of Maine’s solid waste policy and waste management hierarchy.
LD 1483 was proposed to help preserve the economic viability of our three waste to energy facilities so that we don’t end up returning to the days of sending essentially all of Maine’s solid waste to the least preferred, and most problematic, destination on the waste hierarchy.
NRCM recognizes the significant risks that the waste to energy facilities face if they were to lose the participation of municipalities that decide, based on cost considerations, to send their waste to landfills instead. The distribution of the waste stabilization funds, as proposed in the bill, to the municipalities who use waste to energy facilities could keep these businesses afloat. Additionally, with a new fee tied to volume of waste, LD 1483 would create an incentive for towns that are subject to the fee to seek strategies to reduce, reuse, and recycle—in order to minimize payments into the waste stabilization fund. The assessment fees would substantially increase disposal costs which would prompt them to more aggressively find ways to divert waste from landfills, and perhaps even entice them into utilizing waste to energy facilities for disposal.
However, we do have a number of concerns about LD 1483 as written.
First, we are concerned that the waste stabilization funds generated by LD 1483 might put the incentive in the wrong place for towns eligible for disbursements. If funds to towns are based on the tons of waste sent to a waste to energy facility, without regard to the volume of waste recycled, then the result could be a lessening of the incentive to minimize waste. We urge the committee to be careful not to undermine the state’s solid waste management hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, before burning or burying solid waste.
Second, as others have already said today, the assessment fees in this bill would be very significant for taxpayers in the affected communities. The assessment level, rate of increase, and idea of creating a potential cap on assessment fees, all should be discussed carefully given the difficult financial condition that already faces Maine’s municipalities.
Third, we believe that some waste streams, such as bio solids from municipal wastewater treatment plants, or from towns where location and transportation costs may prevent them from any other option than a landfill, should be considered for exemptions from the assessment.
In conclusion, we appreciate the financial challenges that Maine’s waste to energy facilities are facing, and we believe the continued viability of these facilities has statewide significance. The closure of any of the three remaining waste to energy facilities could create long-term environmental and financial problems for Maine, and would greatly undermine the solid waste management policies that have guided the state for the past 25 years. LD 1483 as written is problematic, but we urge the committee to work the bill so that it devotes even greater emphasis on the waste management hierarchy and provides a solution to maintaining the viability of our waste to energy facilities without placing an unnecessary financial burden on Maine taxpayers.
I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.