For the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to operate completely independent of state general revenue funding it is necessary for the agency to raise some existing fees such as those levied on municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris, Chris Korleski, the agency’s director, said last week in testimony before the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee.
And that puts him at odds with officials like the Wood County Board of Commissioners, who’ve been vocal in their opposition to increasing the fees, arguing past fee hikes have hurt local management the Wood County Landfill.
The state, in its recent budget proposal, sought an increase of $1.25 a ton in the municipal solid waste fee to $4.75. Of the increase, $1 would go the EPA and 25 cents to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The construction and demolition debris fee would be increased by $2.70 a ton to $4.40 a ton. The EPA would receive 45 cents a ton from the increase and the ODNR would receive $2.25 a ton.
The EPA’s portion of the increases was to be used to maintain 81 existing positions currently paid for from the Environmental Protection Fund, which replaced the agency’s general revenue fund dollars four years ago with a dedicated solid waste fee.
Korleski said the House-passed version of the budget bill eliminates the 45-cent increase, which, in turn eliminates $1.8 million annually in projected revenues for the agency.
The loss of that revenue, he testified, also raises questions about the funding of the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, which is an adjudicatory body that hears cases on the legality of OEPA’s actions: “…the House also sought to address a funding need of the Environmental Review Appeals Commission by creating a new line-item under Ohio EPA and funding it with $637,000 a year from…EPA’s Environmental Protection Fund. These dollars would replace ERAC’s current general revenue fund appropriation and provide for the additional staff ERAC requested…”
Korleski said he was concerned because it forces the EPA to take on an additional financial responsibility when its own funding is being cut. Also, he questioned whether it was a good idea to have ERAC in the EPA’s budget.
“Rather than being a cash transfer from Ohio EPA to ERAC, the House language as written raises serious questions as to whether ERAC staff will become employees of the Ohio EPA under this provision,” he said.
Korleski’s testimony and figures compiled by the Wood County commissioners appear to be at odds.
He said there has been a “slow and steady increase” over the past 10 years in out-of-state waste disposed in Ohio. In addition, about 20 percent of municipal solid waste and half of the construction/demolition debris waste comes from out-of–state because the overall cost of disposal in Ohio is “much lower” than in northeastern states from where most of it comes.
“Even with the increase in state disposal fees, the average overall cost per ton of waste disposal for MSW and C&DD in Ohio will still generally be lower and/or competitive with our neighboring states,” he said.
The commissioners, in an April letter to local and state officials, contend past fee increases by the state resulted in haulers looking to other states for disposing.
“Specifically, we believe that after these fees were imposed on landfills by the state, waste haulers began to divert MSW and C&DD tonnage to less expensive, out-of-state landfills.
“Available disposal space at our landfill is a very valuable thing and we have taken many steps to ensure the availability of space for at least the next decade. However, we must maintain enough tonnage each year to support the basic operations of the landfill,” the letter says. “We must comply with many state and federal laws and it takes money to do so. When the state imposes fees such as these at the local level it greatly limits our local options for managing the landfill.”