“Zero Waste” Legislation Debate Continues

MACo will consider legislation (SB 799 / HB 1266) at its February 27 Legislative Committee meeting that would require counties to move to a “zero waste” policy.  As introduced, the bills would require counties to increase their recycling rate for municipal solid waste to 50% by 2031 and reduce waste going into a landfill (in-state and out-of-state) to 0%.  Any waste beyond the initial 60% recycling requirement must either:  (1) reused; (2) recycled; (3) composted; (4) incinerated in a waste to energy facility; or (5) subjected to anaerobic digestion.  Counties failing to meet either the recycling or waste diversion goals would have to pay an “alternative compliance penalty” fee that increases over time and is based on the number of tons that a county falls short of its goals.

Senator “Mac” Middleton, the bill’s Senate sponsor, has been holding a series of preliminary stakeholder meetings prior to SB 799’s scheduled March 5th hearing and MACo has submitted concerns over the bill, including: the lack of financial resources to assist counties (especially smaller rural counties) in achieving the recycling and waste diversion goals; the impact of the bill on a county’s ability to pay debt service on landfill investments; cost and siting problems of waste-t0-energy, composting, and recycling facilities; recycling in municipalities; and the imposition of the alternative compliance penalty.

Representatives from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) submitted a second version of the bill that would require counties with 150,000 people or more to achieve an 80% recycling rate and a landfill disposal rate of 20% or less by 2028.  Counties with less than 150,000 people would have to achieve the same recycling rate by 2030 and the same landfill rate by 2028.  The alternative compliance penalty would also remain.

Finally, the stakeholders group considered a third version of the bill that will form the basis for the Senate bill hearing.  The third version of the bill makes several definitional changes and sets a waste disposal hierarchy as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  The bill would require large counties (150,000 or more people) to achieve a 60% recycling rate and 5% landfill disposal rate by 2028.  Small counties (less than 150,000 people) must achieve the same goals by 2035.  The alternative compliance penalty would remain but may be waived if MDE finds a county has provided adequate justification for an alternative recycling or landfill diversion rate and  the county has met that rate.  The penalty would also not be applied if a county or agency has outstanding revenue bonds on a landfill as of January 1, 2013.  The Governor could also waive the fee for a short period of time in response to an emergency or disaster.

Senator Middleton has also indicated that several additional provisions will be added to the third version of the bill, including a higher aspirational recycling goal (although 60% and 5% would remain the mandates), some incentive for counties that achieve the aspirational goal, and assistance for counties that lack the financial resources to meet the goals.

HB 1266 is sponsored by Delegate Steve Lafferty and is scheduled for a bill hearing on March 14.