After more than a decade in which the legislative sessions were marked largely by legislative efforts to erode environmental protection programs, with the exception of the omnibus 1991 garbage bill and the 2001 voluntary remediation act, the 2002 session produced several significant new environmental measures and reauthorized several other key bills. Consistent with the commitment that I have made to the legislators that I would shine my shoes if and when they enacted meaningful environmental legislation, I committed that if the solid waste bill, HB 174, and the power plant bill, underground storage tank reauthorization and cell tower bill passed, I would shine the 23-year old shoes that have been polished only twice since 1990. By my shoe-barometer, it has been a "two-shoe" session. (A small portion of one of the heels will remain unshined - a reminder to myself that the work of protecting Kentucky's people, land, air and water resources from harm, and being accountable and responsible in our relationship with others and our world is never finished, from year to year and generation to generation.)
Here's a snapshot wrap-up of the major bills:
Solid Waste Bill Passes
HB 174, sponsored by Representative Stumbo and a tribute to his tenacity, concern for the environment and skills as a strategist, was given final passage by the Senate and House yesterday. The bill provides dedicated, recurring sources of funding to provide for roadside litter cleanup by the cities and counties, to support a $25 million bond issue to enable the state to address in short order the highest priority abandoned or formerly permitted city or county landfills that were never properly closed; to investigate, characterize and prioritize the hundreds of abandoned and formerly permitted landfills and dumps for future cleanup, and to support through matching funds local efforts to clean up roadside dumps.
While the bill did not include a beverage container deposit system and the advance disposal fee on fast food packaging and beverage containers was removed, the $1.75 per ton tipping fee on waste generated in the state will yield around 8-9 million dollars each year starting January 2003. For the first time, the environmental education master plan will have a dedicated and ongoing source of funds to begin implementation of the environmental education centers concept across the state.
Power Plant Siting
A power plant siting bill that is among the more comprehensive in the nation was adopted that will require all new electric generating units (with minor exceptions) to undergo a siting review by a Siting Board that includes permanent and ad hoc public membership, and that authorizes the Natural Resources Cabinet to review and impose permit conditions addressing cumulative impacts of power plant permits. The bill, originating in the House as HB 540, was improved on in the Senate and again in the House on its return as SB 257.
Many of the key concepts advocated by KRC were incorporated into the bill, including applying the bill to all proposed sites where actual facility construction (not just earth-turning) has not commenced; providing permanent public membership on the board, deleting special exemptions from setback protections that had been included in the House and Senate bills, removing special breaks in siting review that had been crafted to game the process on behalf of coal-fired plants, assuring that merchant plants comply with any local zoning and planning, defining when setbacks can be waived, requiring that the siting board consider past environmental history and capability to manage a plant, sunsetting board siting approval after two years if the facility doesn't obtain all permits and begin construction, and strengthening the siting and environmental analyses and the standards for review of proposed plants. With the assistance of Representatives Joe Barrows and Greg Stumbo, the final version made several important technical amendments sought by KRC, and was passed by the House and concurred in by the Senate last evening.
Underground Storage Tank Fund Extended
The House also improved on and gave final passage to Senate Bill 193, extending the eligibility of old leaking underground storage tank sites for reimbursement from the state tank fund for remediation of contamination and closure of the former gas station sites. The original bill, which closed eligibility this June and would have mandated a new study of cleanup standards with the state mandated to accept UK's recommendations, was substantially modified to leave within Cabinet authority the setting of appropriate cleanup standards. The eligibility was extended to 2004.
HazWaste and Tire Funds Reauthorized
The state waste tire fund and state hazardous waste assessment fund were both reauthorized, allowing those dedicated funds to continue to assess fees from new tire and new hazardous waste generation to fund cleanup of former tire and hazardous waste sites, respectively.
Cell Tower Siting
The House gave final approval to the cell tower siting reform bill initially by Rep. Steve Riggs. The bill removes the current provision allowing the Public Service Commission to override a decision by a planning commission or zoning body denying a proposed cell tower. Instead, any decision of the planning commission or local legislative body action approving or disapproving a proposed cell tower would go to state courts.
Awaiting final action in the budget is the restoration of language, included in the House-passed budget but deleted by the Senate, that would continue the prohibition on issuance of new mining permits to owners and controllers who have unabated violations at other operations. Without this language, any outlaw could reenter the marketplace using a new corporate identity. Senators Richie Sanders and Dan Kelly could use a fax 1-502-564-6543 or a phone message, 1-800-372-7181 asking that the language be restored when the budget conferees meet, as Senator Sanders promised he would.
Thank you each and all for your efforts during these past three months. It is ONLY through your diligence and involvement that the political context in which positive change can occur. Thank you also to editorial writers and reporters for the positive editorials and improved coverage of environmental issues during this session, despite the relentless pressure to reduce coverage and the declining staff resources available to devote to environmental matters.
Tom FitzGerald KRC Director