Trash measure is a pig in a poke
NOV. 15, 2013 -- It’s pretty amazing how one television ad can transform a measure that didn’t make a blip on the legislative radar screen earlier this year into something that’s now controversial.
The issue: trash.
In January, the S.C. House voted 89-28 to pass the “Business Freedom to Choose Act.” Sounds nice, although some may think it sounds like an odd abortion measure instead of a bill to “promote competition” between public and private landfills.
“Every citizen in this state understands that competition leads to competitive prices and high quality of goods and services,” said Julie Scott of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce. “For example: If there was only one grocery store in a county, citizens would be forced to shop there for food for their families and that store could charge essentially whatever it wanted. Without this legislation, businesses are in danger of paying significantly higher prices for trash disposal.”
One problem, however, is that the confusing, convoluted bill is far different than something to merely promote competition. For example, tipping fees at public landfills are already competitive with those at private dumps. An analysis by the state Department of Health and Environmental Services shows private fees in 2012 averaged $38.43 per ton -- 29 cents more than publicly-funded landfill tipping fees.
Another problem, critics complain, is the bill was sold to many as a piece of legislation that would mostly impact Horry County, not the whole state. They say the measure would dramatically tip the balance between public and private landfills in favor of private ones. Why? Because it would put public landfills at risk because of the borrowing that built expensive landfills. If less trash were dumped, there potentially wouldn’t be as much revenue, which could hurt a county’s ability to make payments on a revenue bond, according to the S.C. Association of Counties.
Again, none of this seemed too clear at the beginning of the session when the bill got overwhelming bipartisan support in the House. Now the bill is on the Senate calendar with a potential of being heard at the start of the 2014 legislative session. Meanwhile, there’s a parallel effort by House proponents to attach the measure to a recycling bill already passed in the Senate so that it can get jammed through more quickly.
But the tough ad that started airing this month across the state has changed the political dynamics of the whole, ahem, mess.
The ad, which can be viewed throughDontDumpOnSC.com, pummels the bill as a tool that would allow South Carolina to take more out-of-state waste. Narrated by the Northern voice of “Antony, New York City,” the ad says: “Dear South Carolina, Thank you guys for taking our garbage. We can’t have mountains of garbage stinking up Staten Island -- and we can unload it on youse cheap, since you don’t mind making your state a dump. Talk about Southern hospitality -- sweet, because we got plenty more where this came from.”
What’s really amazing is the ad is running two months before the session starts -- a strategy that has some supporters questioning votes earlier this year when they thought the bill was something else.
“I’ve never really seen the conservation community play hardball like this,” said state Rep. Bakari Sellers, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor. Until the ad ran, he added, “I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.”
Also interesting is the data about waste dumped in South Carolina. Private landfills are far from the impoverished underclass of South Carolina’s waste industry. Private landfills accept almost three times the amount of waste -- 3.8 million tons -- compared to the 1.3 million tons accepted at nine county or regional landfills in the state. Furthermore, private landfills took 600,590 tons of out-of-state waste in 2012, compared to 28,095 tons from “off” at public landfills the same year. [Click here to see summary chart.]
What this whole issue involves is big private waste companies trying to squeeze out the competition -- public landfills -- to gain a more competitive advantage. If they get their way, you can bet your last dollar that prices won’t go down. They’ll go up.
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report. You can reach Brack at: