AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee endorsed a bill Wednesday afternoon that would levy a new fee on waste going into landfills starting next year.
The full Legislature is expected to vote on the bill in the next week or two, according to Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson.
Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, the committee’s Senate chairman, said he doesn’t expect the bill will face much opposition in the Legislature.
“I suspect there will be no debate,” he said Wednesday evening.
The bill is intended to pump money into the Solid Waste Management Fund, which has been running low, according to Duchesne. That fund pays for 20 jobs at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and six positions at the State Planning Office.
With between 300,000 and 350,000 tons of construction demolition debris coming into Maine landfills annually, the extra $300,000 to $350,000 generated by the new fee would stabilize the fund, according to Duchesne.
The bill received support from Gov. Paul LePage in a Jan. 10 letter to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He backed the $4-per-ton fee called for in the original version of the bill.
“Personally, I would like [the fee] to be higher,” Duchesne said after the committee meeting. “Practically, I don’t think we can get that approved by the Legislature.”
According to DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, the state will owe about $6.8 million over the next three years to municipalities that have closed their landfills or have plans to shutter them.
Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, along with several colleagues on the committee, said during discussions on the bill that attempting to come up with $6.8 million by raising $300,000 per year would progress too slowly. She suggested that starting with a $2-per-ton fee to raise closer to $600,000 annually would accomplish more.
Despite agreement from others in the committee, the members ultimately decided the $1-per-ton fee would gain more support from the full Legislature.
The state already applies fees to other types of landfill waste — for example, the disposal of asbestos costs $5 per cubic yard. Ash, coal and oil cost $5 per ton. Construction and demolition debris is the only class of waste the state isn’t already taxing, according to Duchesne.
Saviello said he recently met with representatives of small trucking companies and Casella Waste Systems, which operates Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, to discuss how haulers might be burdened by a new waste fee.
“We had to thread a needle here,” Saviello said. “Is a dollar going to affect Casella and Waste Management? No. Is the dollar going to affect the little guy? I don’t think so.”
Saviello said he left the discussions with the understanding that the trucking companies could adapt to a $1-per-ton fee, but he “heard a lot of objections to $3 and $4.”
Duchesne said the new fee is “pretty small potatoes” and won’t do much to reinforce the state’s waste management hierarchy, which outlines the best practices for how the state should handle waste. Landfilling is at the bottom of that list.
Duchesne and Saviello said stabilizing the Solid Waste Management Fund is one of the first steps toward ensuring that the hierarchy is followed.