Senate panel passes watered-down landfill fee bill

A Senate committee Thursday weakened a bill that would have limited lawmakers’ ability to divert money raised from landfill and tire fees.

House Bill 276, which renewed until 2018 landfill and other fees that are supposed to go to the state’s Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee with little discussion. Though the bill passed the House with the limits, the Senate committee stripped away provisions designed to force lawmakers to spend that money — and the $1 tire fee — where it’s supposed to be spent: cleaning up hazardous waste sites and dumps.

Similar legislation has stalled in the Senate in recent years, with senators arguing that the state needs the flexibility to use the money to fill holes in the state budget and pay for other programs.

In the early 1990s, lawmakers approved two pools of money, the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds, to pay to clean up hazardous waste sites, to update unlined landfills, to clean up scrap tire dumps, to improve and expand solid waste collection and recycling and to eliminate open dumps along roads and streams.

Much of the money for the Hazardous Waste fund comes from landfill fees passed on to Georgians when they pay for garbage pickup. The Solid Waste program is funded by the $1-per-tire charge Georgians pay when they buy new tires.

County officials have complained for years that money meant for the Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste trust funds is regularly being diverted. Since 2004, about $165 million has been collected, but only $63 million has gone to cleanups.

Todd Edwards, lobbyist for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said counties are not able to clean up sites because they can’t get the money from the state. He told the committee that the hazardous waste “fee has become a tax” because the money isn’t going where it was intended.