WASHINGTON -- The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation yesterday that would restore to municipalities the authority to control, with some restrictions, the flow of residential garbage under existing and future contracts.
But in a major concession to the private sector solid-waste industry, the bill approved on a voice vote. would' cover commercial garbage only to a limited extent. The bill would also exclude recyclable waste from flow control.
Yesterday's action came in response to a May 16 ruling by the Supreme Court, which struck down a New York town's flow control law in Carbone v. Clarkstown.
Some committee members such as Rep. Billy Tauzin, D-La. said they want to revisit flow control next year when Congress debates reauthorizalion of.the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, which sets out the main framework for regulating disposal of the nation's waste.
Tauzin said issues such as treatment of recyclable materials need to be addressed in a broader context, but he and other members agreed that action is needed this year on some type of flow control measure to negate the court ruling.
The committee bill now goes to the House floor, but Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, and other members called for further improvements to the bill before a vote occurs. No action has occurred in the Senate. but senators hope to attach a flow control amendment in floor debate on a bill governing interstate waste shipments.
How control, which refers to the ability of localities to dictate where garbage is to be sent for disposal. provides the underpinning for billions of dollars in municipal bond financing of solid waste facilities because it guarantees a steady waste stream. The waste supply ensures adequate revenue to pay debt service in lieu of increased local taxes.
After several postponements. committee chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., called yesterday's markup session after it became clear that members were ready to vote for the version of the bill he favored. Getting members to focus on the issue amidst debates on crime, health care, and other issues made the markup difficult to schedule, one congressional aide said.
The committee rejected on a 20-1o-13 vote a proposal offered by Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., and Rep. Jack Fields, R-Tex., that would have protected waste .delivery contracts only until bonds are paid off or the contracts expire under local flow control laws existing as of mid-May.
The panel opted for a broader approach sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone. D-N.J.,Rep. Alex McMillan. RN.C.. and Rep. Blanche Lambert, DArk., that would give municipalities more flexibility than the Richardson bill but would not restore their "absolute authority" to control garbage flow, said Rep. A1 Swift. D-Wash.
Swift sponsored a bill that was passed last month by the panel's subcommittee on transportation, which he chairs. The Swift bill would have grandfathered flow control laws, contracts, and solid waste management plans in effect as of May 15.
The Pallone-McMillan-Lambert bill would let municipalities continue doing what they were doing at the time of Carbone with respect to commercial and residential waste, McMillan said. The measure would grant localities authority to control non-grandfathered residential waste provided they set up a competitive bidding process for designating facilities. But prospective control of commercial waste flow would not be allowed.
The bill would protect laws, contracts, regulations, plans. or other legally binding flow control arrangements in .place when the Carbone decision was issued. Communities that have not yet designated disposal facilities would have to show a significant financial commitment toward doing so between Jan. 1, 1993. and May 15, 1994. Prospective flow control authority would expire five years from enactment, if localities do not designate proposed or existing facilities by then.
The Public Securities Association said in an Aug. 17 letter to Dingell that the debate had shifted from one of pro- and anti-flow control to a choice between one form of grandfathering versus another.
The committee held only two up-ordown votes. one on Richardson's limited grandfatherlag amendment, and the other on the Pallone substitute, before committee passage.
The PSA told Dingell that the Carbone decision hurt outstanding bonds used to finance waste facilities and that local governments must have continued access to the m-exempt bond market to finance facilities in the lowest cost manner. The Pallone bill "provides the marketplace the greatest assurance that the localities will be able to carry out those policies"'in place before Carbone and to "meet current and future financial obligations." the association said.