AUGUSTA, Maine — State legislators are working out the final details of a bill that would establish fees on some waste that goes into Maine landfills, according to the lawmaker sponsoring the bill.
Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, said the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee met Tuesday for a work session to discuss LD 1278, An Act To Stabilize Solid Waste Management Funding. There will be at least one more work session before the final language and details of the statute are ironed out, he said.
The bill should be ready to go up for a House vote in February, said Duchesne, the ranking House member on the committee. He said it has bipartisan support on the panel.
“We had a good discussion [during the Tuesday work session] about what we were trying to accomplish with this,” Duchesne said Wednesday morning.
The bill would impose a $1 fee on every ton of construction demolition debris disposed of in landfills that are, or are expected to be, spread across 6 acres or more, according to Duchesne. The fee might increase to $2 per ton the next year, he said.
That includes the controversial stream of construction demolition debris coming to Maine from states such as Massachusetts, as well as such debris being generated in Maine.
The bill received support from Gov. Paul LePage in a Jan. 10 letter to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
The fees would go into the Maine Solid Waste Management Fund, which pays for 20 positions at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and six jobs at the State Planning Office. The fund has been running low, Duchesne said.
“When there’s a bad economy we landfill less, so less goes into the fund,” Duchesne said.
Between 300,000 and 350,000 tons of construction demolition debris are put in Maine landfills annually, according to Duchesne. That extra $300,000 to $350,000 would “stabilize” the fund, ensure that DEP and State Planning Office employees get paid and help cover the costs of closing several municipal landfills the state hasn’t been able to shut down yet, he said.
The original language of the bill, which was drafted in March of last year, proposed higher fees on a broader range of waste but has been dialed back after several work sessions. The initial bill suggested a $4-per-ton fee on construction demolition debris, with a $6 fee on landfills granted expansion licenses after Oct. 15, 2011.
The state already applies fees to other types of landfilled waste — for example, the disposal of asbestos costs $5 per cubic yard. Ash, coal and oil cost $5 per ton.
Another aim of the bill, Duchesne said, is to gain some control over the amount of waste coming to Maine’s landfills and waste-processing facilities from out of state.
Maine has eyed regulating out-of-state waste in the past but held back because officials feared that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution would prevent the state from barring waste from across its borders. That concern will be eased by the fact that the bill levies fees on both Maine and out-of-state construction demolition debris, Duchesne said.
Casella Waste Systems Inc., which operates the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, would feel the brunt of the additional fees.
In reports from 2010, Casella-owned waste processor KTI Bio Fuels in Lewiston said it drew 85 percent of its construction demolition debris from Massachusetts, with 8 percent coming from Maine construction and demolition projects.
After KTI finishes plucking out recyclables and clean wood for use in biomass boilers, it sends the leftovers to Juniper Ridge.
Don Meagher, Casella’s manager for planning and development, argued Wednesday that Duchesne’s bill is one of many examples of repeated “unilateral rule changes” that deviate from the nearly decade-old contract between the state and Casella.
He said the bill is “reaching” for ways to regulate out-of-state waste and that the lawmakers behind it repeatedly have changed their reasons for adding fees.
Meagher also said the fees would hurt trucking companies that bring the waste to the processing facilities and Juniper Ridge. Duchesne said that is one of the concerns that will be discussed at the next work session for the bill.
Casella feels slighted by the state because of frequent rule and regulation changes since Casella signed a contract with the state in 2003 to take over Juniper Ridge, according to Meagher.
For example, he said, the state established a public benefit determination requirement before landfills can expand even though the 30-year contract stipulated that an expansion would be needed and that Maine’s waste-to-energy and recycling facilities, such as KTI, would need out-of-state debris to reach their output goals. That hurdle didn’t exist when Casella signed its contract.
“What’s really at the heart of this topic is: Can the business community in Maine trust the state to keep its word,” Meagher said. “Stop punishing us for doing what you have asked us to do. How does that make sense?”
Duchesne, who was not in the Legislature when the state signed the contract with Casella, countered that things have changed drastically since 2003.
“It is true that things have changed, and the conversation has changed,” he said, “but it always does.”