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Legislative Action

Thompson's 'environmental challenge'


Gov. James R. Thompson pushed environmental issues hard in his proposed fiscal year 1991 budget. Thompson proposed a seven-year, half billion dollar bricks-and-mortar attack on solid waste. He would pay for it with higher fees on landfill operators and on industries that store hazardous chemicals.

In his budget message Thompson reiterated the goal raised in his State of the State message, that by the end of the century half of what is now thrown in landfills should be recycled. Currently about 10 percent is recycled and current law says that 25 percent of all waste should be recycled by the year 2000. "The typical American family produces more than 4,500 gallons of garbage each year. That's going to have to stop, or at least be reversed, sometime soon," Thompson said.

Thompson named his program the Environmental Challenge. He proposed to spend $536.3 million over seven years, nearly half of that from an expansion of the bond-funded Build Illinois program. The balance of the program included smaller expansions and gathering of existing programs like prevention of soil erosion under the umbrella of his initiative.

The program would allocate:

$500 million for matching grants to local governments to build landfills, transfer stations and incinerators. The Environmental Protection Agency believes that the program will finance up to 25 transfer stations, seven incinerators and seven landfills.

$15 million for the clean-up of hazardous waste sites that do not qualify for federal Superfund support.

$.5 million for emergency response to hazardous waste spills.

$1.9 million to reduce generation of pollutants before they enter the environment.

$3 million to create a revolving loan fund available to businesses that want to change operations to prevent pollution.

$4.8 million to track, in cooperation with neighboring states, pollution in the metropolitan Chicago area with an eye to reducing ozone-damaging pollution.

$1.5 million to have pollutants dredged from Waukegan harbor.

$1.5 million to collect and dispose of agricultural chemicals declared illegal or unsafe by the federal government.

$1 million for shared cost grants to prevent erosion of cropland.

$.6 million to implement erosion control measures around Peoria Lake.

$.7 million for the Pollution Control Board to add staff and upgrade computers.

$.6 million to expand the Kids for Conservation program and to develop classroom materials.

$2.2 million increase in interpretive services for visitors to state parks.

$2 million to plant trees.

$1 million to locate groundwater resources and to evaluate groundwater quality.

Roughly half the money would come from the sale of new Build Illinois bonds and the other half from current revenues. The new money for debt service and expanded operations would come from two sources. First, Thompson proposed raising the fee charged for disposing of waste from $1.39 per ton to $6.60 per ton in fiscal year 1992. The increase would generate about $60 million per year. Second, Thompson proposed a fee for storing certain hazardous chemicals, substances that are commonly cleaned up at hazardous waste sites. The $7.50 per ton fee would raise about $24 million per year.

Neither business nor environmentalists embraced the plan. William Dart, the Illinois Manufacturers' Association's vice president for governmental affairs, questioned spending $500 million to help local government build waste facilities. Dart claimed that the problem is the inability to site new landfills: "Funding needed waste treatment, disposal and incineration facilities is not the problem." The Illinois State Chamber of Commerce made an identical point. And both groups question the chemical storage fee.

But while business says "make it easier to build landfills," environmental groups dispute the bricks-and-mortar approach Joe Schwartz, lobbyist for the Illinois Environmental Council, lauded Thompson's goal of recycling 50 percent of waste generated. But Schwartz thinks that building new landfills and new incinerators will take pressure off landfills, pressure that he thinks is bringing recycling to the forefront. "If he wants to build Illinois, I'd build it on recyclables rather than on more landfills," Schwartz says.

And there will be other environmental initiatives besides Thompson's program One is the question of shifting the focus from recycling waste to reducing the amount of waste produced. The Department of Energy and Natural Resources has convened a task force of business and environmentalists to wrestle with the problem. Solutions could include a tax on containers, volume-based disposal fees or outright bans on certain packaging. If the group can reach consensus an agreed bill may be forthcoming. Without an agreed bill environmentalists may push their own bills.

The environmental groups will also offer their own proposals. Virginia Scott, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, expects to push for expanded wetlands protection. Last year lawmakers passed a bill that said state-funded projects should protect wetlands, and that when wetland must be destroyed it must be restored somewhere else. Now the council would like to extend the concept of no net loss of wetland to private projects, an expansion that will draw opposition from farmers and developers.

Kevin Greene, who lobbies for Citizens for a Better Environment, expects to push again for legislation to eliminate use of ozone-depleting chemicals. One bill would require that whenever an automotive air conditioner is repaired its refrigerant be recycled instead of being allowed to escape into the atmosphere. Greene also sees the need for programs that would encourage industry to reduce or eliminate toxics in their manufacturing processes.

Thompson will get little opposition to the notion of enhancing the environment. Whether to do it with more landfills or less trash still divides business and environmentalists.

28/April 1990/Illinois Issues

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