LANSING, MI — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is taking a page out of the state Democratic playbook with a new plan to fund toxic cleanups and monitor water quality: Tax trash.
On Tuesday, Jan. 30, Snyder proposed raising $79 million annually to, among other things, cleanup and redevelop polluted properties, tackle emerging contaminants like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, (or PFAS), and reduce nutrients in Lake Erie.
The money, much of which would go to local governments through grants, would come from a sharp hike on the state surcharge on landfilling waste — from 36-cents to $4.75 per ton, a roughly 1,200 percent increase on so called “tipping fees.”
The proposal is named “Renew Michigan.”
Snyder called it a “comprehensive approach to cleaning up contaminated sites while addressing best practices for managing waste and recycling efforts.”
“Michiganders deserve a smart and safe plan to ensure the protection of our environment and public health — today, tomorrow and for generations to come,” he said.
The proposal would have to clear the legislature, which doesn’t have a bill yet. If past is prologue, it could be a tough sell with Republican lawmakers who have opposed hikes on waste disposal because the increased costs are generally passed on to ratepayers.
Snyder’s office estimated the average household would see a $4.75 annual increase in the cost of trash pickup under the proposal.
Business groups have also opposed higher tipping fees, although affected industry members say they’re waiting for details before taking a position.
“We’ve generally been against that kind of proposal, largely because those fees go, in part, to fund local residential recycling,” said Mike Johnston, spokesperson for the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
Because fees are assessed on each truck at the gate, “you don’t know whether that’s industrial or residential waste” entering the landfill, he said. “Essentially, manufacturers pay for residential recycling and we’re fundamentally opposed to that.”
The proposed increase would match Ohio’s tipping fee and raise Michigan’s rate past that of Illinois and Indiana, which charge $2 and 60-cents per-ton, respectively. Wisconsin charges $13 and Pennsylvania charges $6.25.
“I think we have got to be careful with tipping fees that exceed other states,” said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. “That would be a concern of mine.”
Casperson is chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, where a bill would most likely land first. He questioned whether the fee burden couldn’t be “spread around” a bit by taxing gasoline or other contamination product sales to fund cleanups.
“There’s been conversation about putting a fee on motor oils, things like that,” he said. “Is there a way to do this other than just the tipping fee? Nobody has really had that conversation.”
Tipping fee hikes have been proposed before — by state Democrats in 2006 and 2009. The arguments were similar, but also compounded by controversial volumes of Canadian garbage bound for Michigan landfills due to the rock bottom surcharge — then 21 cents.
That imported waste hasn’t stopped, although it did drop slightly over the past decade. Nonetheless, Canadian trash accounted for about 18 percent of solid waste dumped in Michigan in 2016. Other states accounted for about 5.5 percent.
Nearly a quarter of trash being dumped in MI is brought in from other states because of our below-average fee to dispose of waste—that’s unacceptable. #Foundation4MIFuture
— Governor Rick Snyder (@onetoughnerd) January 30, 2018
In a tweet, Snyder called that volume “unacceptable.”
Environmental groups like the new proposal, which would help boost Michigan’s anemic 15 percent recycling rate by allocating $15 million for local infrastructure grants to improve recycling, market development and education.
Another $9 million is proposed for local solid waste planning, which Snyder’s office said could be used to help remove asbestos from blighted properties.
State park infrastructure upgrades and water quality monitoring grants would get $5 million apiece annually under the proposal.
But the big money is for toxic cleanups.
The plan sets aside $45 million for remediation and redevelopment of toxic properties — a major Michigan Department of Environmental Quality budget item that bottomed out last year as the state finally depleted the Clean Michigan Initiative (CMI) bond funds.
The legislature shot down Snyder’s proposal to shift $15 million from a gas-tax fund to cover toxic cleanups and investigate properties for poison vapor intrusion, an emerging threat like PFAS that’s gaining wider attention as technology develops to detect unsafe levels of airborne contamination seeping into poorly-sealed buildings.
This year, the proposal comes amid a widening investigation into PFAS contamination of drinking water supplies around the state in places like Belmont, Oscoda and Grayling.
“With stories of contaminated drinking water headlining papers across the state, waiting even a year to secure new CMI funding would be a devastating blow to local economies where industrial contamination has prevented growth and polluted drinking water supplies,” said Chris Kolb, Michigan Environmental Council president.
“We are encouraged by Governor Snyder’s announcement,” said Kolb. “Our state lawmakers should follow suit and approve a funding replacement quickly — the move would be a win for our state’s economy and public health.”