What We Need to Cleanup Kentucky

« Latest News


Testimony of Tom FitzGerald, Director

Kentucky Resources Council, Inc. before

The Interim Joint Committee On Agriculture

And Natural Resources


October 10, 2001

Mr. Chairman, members of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, thank you for the invitation to appear today to briefly outline the perspective of the Kentucky Resources Council, Inc. concerning waste management needs in the Commonwealth.

For seventeen years, after being raised well by my parents, it seems I have been talking trash. The Council has provided technical and legal assistance to hundreds of individuals, community groups and local governments on waste issues in those years. In 1991, as negotiator for a coalition of five statewide environmental and community groups, I had the privilege of working with representatives of local and state government and the waste industries, commercial, institutional, industrial and residential waste generators, to craft a consensus framework and language of the last comprehensive reform of our solid waste laws, Senate Bill 2. Parenthetically, Senator Harris, I would note that until the voluntary remediation bill last year, 1991 was the last time that the shoes were shined.

A decade later, there is still work to be done, and I believe that, working together, we are up to the task.

In 1991, the General Assembly made great strides towards a comprehensive system of solid waste reduction, recycling, and management. Appropriate access to lawful disposal was made mandatory. A full decade later, it is past time to take the next step and to require that collection opportunities exist and are being used.

Cleaning up Kentucky is a process of changing attitude and eliminating a tolerance for trash. It will take a multi-faceted process of enforcement, education, investment and incentives to eliminate the persistent blight of roadside bottle, can and fast-food packaging litter; to remedy the lack of a funded environmental education curriculum for grades K-12; to overcome the lack of robust funding for community-based local education and anti-litter initiatives and to remedy the lack of even enforcement of anti-littering and anti-dumping laws across the state.

People are motivated to do the right thing by many different factors: some by a sense of duty, some by a sense of obligation to the next generation, some by a sense of stewardship for God s creation, some by fear, some by positive reinforcement, some out of enlightened self-interest. Some foul the earth for convenience, some out of habit, some out of ignorance. A comprehensive solid waste program encourages, aids and abets responsible behavior and creates disincentives for lawbreaking.

While the 1991 solid waste reform bill did remarkably well in moving us in the right direction towards solving our solid waste problems, several significant issues remain:

  • Hundreds of old uncontrolled waste disposal sites, including many leaking landfills owned by counties and cities that must be closed and monitored to protect private well and public groundwater supplies;
  • The persistent blight of roadside bottle, can and fast-food packaging litter;
  • The lack of an adequately funded environmental education curriculum for grades K-12, and continuing adult education through anti-litter and anti-waste campaigns;
  • The lack of a robust funding source for community-based local education and anti-litter initiatives;
  • The lack of even enforcement by local government of anti-littering and anti-dumping laws across the state;
  • The uneven performance of some counties and communities in achieving mandated recycling, dump abatement, and safe disposal goals.


Solving this will take four things:

  1. Legislative Leadership
  2. Better Enforcement By Local and State Government of Anti-litter and Landfill Closure Laws
  3. Revenue To Support Local Initiatives
  4. Investment in Environmental Education

Regarding legislative leadership, the 1991 law evolved in the context of a special legislative session in which a relative handful of other issues were under consideration. Committee chairs and the Governor s office created the context in which face-to-face negotiations involving various interested groups, broadly based and representative of all interests, and legislators would occur, and then respected the product of those deliberations. The legislative willingness to create a productive process and to remain engaged in that process is key to producing a good product.

It is inevitable and largely healthy that party politics affects the decisionmaking process regarding public policy issues yet at times the over-politicization of thorny issues hurts rather than helps resolve the issues. Solid waste issues have been particularly rancorous, yet the voluntary remediation bill shows that there are values that we believe that are more important than scoring points in failure. Partisan has two generally accepted meanings one, used often in a critical context, to mean one whose actions are based on feeling rather than reason. But is has a different meaning that of one who is loyal to a cause or a person. I believe, because in 23 years before this body I have seen it at certain glorious moments, that if we work at it, the loyalty that each of you to the God-given beauty of this state and to our children and the safeguarding of their future will prove the most enduring value.

One key issue that will require state legislative leadership is that of mandatory use of collection systems at the local level. AS an interim goal, the Council believes that mandatory collection should be defined as achieving an acceptable level of collection through any combination of education, enforcement and availability or local mandatory ordinance, demonstrated through attaining objective and reasonable benchmarks over a five-year period, to reach a level of lawful waste recycling, reuse and disposal rising from the baseline of 80% to 98%, with end-of-curb mandated after that time for communities failing to meet the benchmarks through methods outlined in their amended solid waste plans. A series of graduated, comprehensive benchmarks demonstrating county and city efforts in enforcement, education and access is more likely to yield meaningful improvement. Achieving the targeted levels of participation will require additional effort even in those counties with nominal mandatory collection currently.

In crafting improvements in mandated collection, it must be acknowledged that many businesses and industries have their own solid waste disposal contracts and methods.

Regarding rigorous local and state enforcement of illegal dumping laws, the performance of local law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial officials should be reviewed in order to determine ways to improve enforcement and prosecution of dumping laws. Empowering solid waste coordinators to sanction littering through civil fines collectable through property taxes or vehicle registration taxes, with administrative costs recoverable from local clerks office, may prove more workable than relying on the criminal justice system. Regarding state enforcement of landfill closure obligations, a number of local governments have unresolved obligations to close former landfills, to cap them, to monitor them, and to correct environmental contamination. While I appreciate the Administration s focus on roadside dumps, these former waste disposal sites pose a much higher individual and aggregate environmental risk, and it is less than responsible to ignore the unenforced obligations of these local governments to properly close the facilities.

Regarding revenue to support local initiatives, there is no question that proper waste management is cheaper to our Commonwealth than improper waste management, but it has proven politically easier to allow those costs of improper waste management to accrue, because the costs are diffuse and hidden, rather than to impose any costs at the front end to minimize later problems and costs.

Let me first outline my understanding of the financial needs facing our Commonwealth, and then suggest a few mechanisms for your consideration to meet those needs:

  • The Patton Administration has estimated that $12 million would be needed to capitalize the start-up costs and cover the uncollectable bills until the property tax mechanism could be established and utilized.
    The Kentucky Infrastructure Authority revolving loan program could be expanded to allow no-cost loans to counties to ramp up their collection programs, based on an approved solid waste plan approved by the Natural Resources Cabinet, with appropriate benchmarks. We cannot expect that counties can capitalize mandatory collection program costs without a hand up.
  • The elimination of open dumps has been a goal of the Administration, and proposals have been made to tie receipt of state support for other programs to county elimination of all dumps. Counties in turn are frustrated with the lack of statewide funding for illegal dump initiatives.
    The proposal management of solid waste including preventing illegal dumping, is a core responsibility of local government, but the state has a legitimate interest and role in providing technical and financial assistance and in demanding accountability.
    The Patton Administration has estimated that the cost of remediation of all open dumps in Kentucky would be approximately $10 million, based on preliminary estimates of $3,000 per dump for the approximately 3,300 dumps statewide. I believe that the number is higher than that. Access to funds to capitalize and support a dump remediation and local enforcement program is needed.
  • The Administration has estimated that there are some 136 historic public and privately owned sites that formerly accepted waste and are not properly closed, with an additional 533 old sites, including dumps and landfills, that need verification, elimination and possible closure monies. The cost estimate for the historic sites was set at $200,000, which is an extremely low number given that the cost of closure of one county landfill alone in Marshall County was over $4 million.
    The Administration has estimated a need of $4.8 million for four time per year litter cleanup along county roads and for local education efforts regarding litter, and $2 million for a statewide educational program on litter.
  • Recycling infrastructure efforts to expand marketing of recyclables, needs additional funding. Markets exist for many products, but the lack of assistance to create linkage between local government material programs and markets, hamstrings achievement of the statewide waste reduction and recycling goals. The Kentucky Recycling and Marketing Authority has done much with little, but there is much more that could be accomplished in this regard, creating value in what is now a waste burden.

Finding revenues to pay these costs is no easy matter, given the downturn in economic conditions and budget shortfalls. There are several mechanisms for spreading the costs among the waste-generating population that bear discussion and consideration:

  • An advanced disposal fee, through which identified consumer items, such as single-use bottles and cans and fast food packaging would have a modest fee imposed in order to fund local initiatives.

Conservatively estimated, a cent per bottle and can (6 cents per 12-pack) on soft drinks and beer and fast food packaging, would according to one estimate, yield over 30 million dollars annually to fund solid waste efforts. A ½ cent per container fee, which is far lower than the market variability in the price of these non-essential commodities, and might be absorbed at the wholesale level or result in no or miniscule price rise at the retail level. Cumulatively, this tax would provide direct targeted funds that would yield highly visible and beneficial results for all Kentuckians.


  • A landfill disposal surcharge. Imposition of a $1 per ton surcharge on solid waste disposed of at Kentucky s solid waste landfills, which would yield, according to one estimate, over $7 million dollars annually, some of which would be paid by out-of-state waste generators who disposed of their waste in Kentucky.
  • Container deposit legislation, which provides an effective incentive to divert and recover containers from roadside ditches and landfills.

Regarding investment in environmental education, full funding of the state environmental education master plan is needed in order to provide short-and long-term cost-effective education on solid waste reuse, recycling, reduction, and littering. TV litter campaigns are part of the larger mosaic but are resource-intensive and transitory in their effect. Education, particularly early childhood education, instills durable values, and pours a foundation upon which lasting change endures.

Direct funding for solid waste anti-littering and educational campaigns, as proposed last year in House Bill 57 and Senate Bill 56, should be combined as elements of the amended solid waste plans already required of counties. Seeding local education programs, such as the Southern Appalachian Recycling programs, is a sound investment.

In conclusion, I have appreciated the interest of this Administration in two of the many solid waste issues facing the state - roadside dumps and mandatory collection. I remain concerned that continued focusing of the lion s share of resources and attention on cleaning up dumps highlights the least efficient approach to solid waste management.

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, we are ready to roll up our sleeves and work to craft a workable bill to finish the job begun in 1991. Your invitation to me and your attention to my comments today are very much appreciated.

By Kentucky Resources Council on 10/16/2001 5:32 PM
« Latest News