A legislative committee on Friday scrapped major portions of a bill from Gov. Ned Lamont intended to address a growing shortfall in Connecticut’s waste management capabilities, driven in part by last year’s closure of a Hartford-based waste-to-energy facility.
The Environment Committee approved the governor’s proposal Friday morning, but not before removing increased fees including a $5-per-ton disposal fee for waste shipped out of state by municipalities. Connecticut towns ship more than 860,000 tons of solid waste across state lines every year, according to the Lamont administration.
Another provision scaled back by the panel is called an “extended producer responsibility,” an initiative designed to make large manufacturers responsible for managing the used-up packaging they generate. Under the committee’s version of the bill, EPR would not take effect until four neighboring states had first adopted the policy.
The remaining elements of the bill are designed to increase the separation of organic material like food scraps from other trash in order to be recycled for energy or other uses. Another piece would create a Connecticut Waste Authority to pick up where the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority left off when it closed its Hartford-based facility last year.
During the meeting, proponents of the bill praised efforts to encourage a more environmentally friendly approach to trash disposal. Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, said the legislation represented a compromise.
“Some of us have been waiting all our lives, all our lives, for industries to do the right thing voluntarily and if they do not want the heavy hand of government coming down and telling them what to do then they should self-police and pivot their business model the way so many other parts of our society have had to do,” Palm said.
Opponents of the bill praised Friday’s changes as improvements, but argued that elements like the continued possibility of implementing an EPR program on packaging would increase costs for consumers.
“If we don’t think that implementing a universal EPR program is not going to increase the cost on almost the everyday products that the middle class men and women of this state purchase on a daily basis, we’re wrong,” Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, said. “It’s going to be baked into their costs when we’re facing record inflation and the like.”
Republicans proposed further changes to the bill that would have removed the EPR program altogether. Rep. Laura Dancho, R-Stratford, argued that the state’s system of collecting packaging was already working.
“These costs faced by such businesses will be passed on to the consumers, making everything from groceries to everyday necessities, to the packaging delivered right to your door more expensive,” Dancho said.
Democrats rejected the amendment to remove the program. Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, called the change “overkill” given that the bill had already been altered such that the program would not kick in unless surrounding states acted first.
“The amendment says, ‘We don’t really have a problem with our packaging so let’s just ignore it,’” Mushinksy said. “That’s not really responsible when we’re shipping 860,000 tons of material out of state to Ohio and other states. It’s irresponsible to pretend it’s not an issue.”
The committee’s action on Friday moves the bill to the House for consideration. A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to requests for comment on the changes made by the committee.