The Cart Before The Horse…
Our delegation to Annapolis has recently voted to endorse a pilot program for a Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) trash mitigation system. Will this program help mitigate the tremendous amount of trash we send to the landfill and potentially save our citizens money? Let’s explore some of the possibilities.
In September 2009, I wrote a letter to the delegation outlining my opposition to this program. In it I outlined various issues like consistent application of the law, the regressive nature of this system, and the fact that this proposal does not actually deal with the reality of the problem at our landfills – volume versus weight. Since that time, numerous others have weighed in and noted that the county has no plan in place, yet they are to be given this authority. This is beyond putting the cart before the horse – it almost seems a situation of “[wrecking] the truck to get the insurance money to make the truck payment.” *
When a program like this is implemented, the oversight authority cannot simply state “we know the good and bad players” and will deal with the bad players. Due diligence and equal treatment under the law is not an option, it is a requirement. To date, the only viable mechanism for enforcement is weighing some new container that everyone must use. Who will pay for these containers? If a container is under weight, will a credit be given? Will these credits be tradable? Imagine the paperwork, new staff, and cost for such a system.
One should also note the waste stream differences between age groups. Those of us with older children will quickly see and remember the difference. During the younger years, families tend to generate much more trash due to such necessities as diapers, food stuffs, clothing, toys, and furniture. To put a higher cost on young couples or singles with children is the most regressive of tax schemes. Incomes tend to be smaller during the early years and these additional costs will be excessively burdensome on these groups.
One must also consider the mechanism used to charge these fees or taxes. Weight is not the real issue with respect to our landfills – it is volume. Consider that 20 pounds of styrofoam is radically different in volume than 20 pounds of used tissues. What forces a landfill to close is not weight, but the volume of material being buried.
Others have noted that the PAYT scheme may have an unintended consequence of people putting more non-recyclables into their blue bin. We already have a serious issue of contamination in our single stream recycling. If people put more product into the recycling bin to avoid this PAYT tax or fee, this will exacerbate this existing problem which already costs the county significant dollars.
Others have raised more questions. Why would the delegation give the county authority for yet another program which may well increase costs, yet no plan for this program currently exists? Does our delegation believe these programs are so ubiquitous they will occur here regardless? Does our delegation believe the county cannot come up with a plan prior to getting authority for such a scheme? It seems none of the questions have been asked or answered by our delegation.
When a new law or authority is put in place, should not these kinds of questions be asked in advance? We are now in the midst of serious reversal of power and authority at the national level of our politics – too much power and authority with a closed mind and ear to the public has brought about significant changes in the make-up of our Congress. Is the delegation unaware of this sea change?
This same outrage exists at the state and local governments. It would behoove our delegation to recognize the public is no longer interested in politicians who believe they know more than we do and will force their programs upon us regardless our desires, needs, and determinations.
Without a design in place, this has the potential of giving the county carte blanche. One will remember the creation of the Resource Conservation Zoning – many affected by this change were adamantly opposed to its creation. The county may well plead that they made significant changes to the Resource Conservation Zoning. In truth, the county made significant errors in its creation and only changed that to fit their already preconceived notions.
The county is now using Resource Conservation Zoning to down-zone many properties on the newly introduced Comprehensive Plan. One should always remember when we give a government entity authority to use a “new tool,” the likelihood of that tool being used well beyond its original intention is high. Do we somehow think this will be different for a scheme such as PAYT?
It won’t! The National Transportation Planning Board, a regional organization composed of representatives from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia has recently completed and released its study to diminish CO-2 via transportation mechanism. On page 19 of this report, various alternatives are graphically outlined. **
The number one choice for this is PAYD (Pay-As-You-Drive) Insurance – sound familiar? When government spends too much money on extraneous projects, it will often propose draconian measures. The new twist is to attempt to align these proposals with market forces – this is a false paradigm. This is a market response, not a solution, to a government solution that does not fix the problem. It was pointed out that any solution coming close to $50/ton in CO-2 mitigation equates to about a 40% increase in an electricity bill. Hence, trying to force drivers off the road is a not a solution to a proposed CO-2 problem.
These quick fix proposals, which are purported to be market driven, are neither! They will not fix our landfill issues; rather they will add yet more problems and more layers of bureaucracy. They also will not save us money; rather they will add more costs to an already overburdened government. We have seen these easy fixes presented before and they have never been easy, nor have they been fixes.
I hope our delegation will require more from our county leaders before handing over such authority. They were elected as a check and balance. They need to take this aspect of their responsibility seriously.
* “I believe that sometimes you gotta wreck the truck to get the insurance money to make the truck payment.” Larry the Cable Guy, Blue Collar Comedy.
** If you want to read more about PAYD Insurance, the Brookings Institute, (a progressive Think Tank) which is closely aligned with National Transportation Planning Board, has a White Paper as to how this will reduce driving.