Sun Editorial Criticizes Hogan’s Zero Waste Repeal

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan recently announced that he was repealing a zero waste executive order implemented by former Governor Martin O’Malley in his final week in office. The two main provisions in the O’Malley order was the establishment of a waste diversion goal of 85% by 2040 and an immediate ban on further expansions to landfills. Hogan also enacted a new executive order mandating the creation of a “Sustainable Materials Management Policy” and requiring the Maryland Department of the Environment and other State agencies to take certain actions related to recycling, source reduction, and waste diversion.

A Baltimore Sun editorial (2017-06-28) criticized Hogan’s action, arguing that it “is an odd, perhaps even Donald Trump-like way, to curry favor with civic leaders – or voters.” The editorial questioned the need for the repeal:

This week in a speech to the Maryland Municipal League in Ocean City, Gov. Larry Hogan announced he was signing an executive order repealing the Zero Waste Plan order, which he said usurped local control and created unnecessary hardship for local governments. He vowed to pursue a “balanced approach” to waste management and recycling. …Those in attendance were reportedly a bit mystified by Mr. Hogan’s announcement, however, given that only one municipality represented at the meeting — Baltimore — actually operated a landfill, and the city hadn’t requested a repeal, a point confirmed by a spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh on Tuesday. It wasn’t on the Maryland Association of Counties’ current wish list either, according to the organization’s executive director. The most controversial element of the plan, a restriction on future landfill permits, simply hasn’t been a hot topic for MACO members of late.

NOTE: While it is true that the landfill ban is not a current MACo priority, at the time Governor O’Malley proposed it, MACo and several counties raised significant concerns about the ban with the incoming Hogan Administration, including a lack of prior discussion on the issue or integration with long-range county solid waste plans, a lack of viable alternatives for those counties nearly maxed out on their landfill capacity, and potential bond rating issues for those counties who had issued bonds based on future projected landfill fees. Those concerns remain relevant. The State’s 2014 Zero Waste Plan, upon which the O’Malley executive order is loosely based, envisioned that any limits on future landfill expansion would need to be implemented over a much longer time frame and also be offset by the use of incinerators/waste-to-energy plants to burn the remaining waste that could not be recycled, reused, or otherwise diverted. The O’Malley executive order did not address these issues.

The editorial also conflated the Hogan action with the recent action of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, at the behest of President Donald Trump, to rescind a rule that expanded the definition of the “waters of the US” under the federal Clean Water Act. The editorial argued that both actions were against mainstream voter views:

What do these two decisions have in common (aside from chief executives sticking it to their predecessor)? Both presume that a majority of the electorate see environmental protections enforced by the government as doing more harm than good. But that simply isn’t the mainstream view. As a 2016 Pew Research Center survey demonstrated, about three out of four U.S. adults believe the country should “do whatever it takes to protect the environment.” The phrase “whatever it takes” would seem to cover such situations as making sure fracking in one state isn’t fouling the waters that are swept into a neighboring state’s reservoirs. And it would certainly seem to extend to having people recycle more and create fewer new landfills. How tragic that standing up for the most basic of protections — keeping people safe from their neighbors’ waste — is no longer viewed as a nonpartisan cause.

Useful Links

Conduit Street article on Hogan’s zero waste repeal announcement

Prior Conduit Street coverage of zero waste