EVEN FOR BEACON HILL, the wrangling over recycling legislation late Tuesday night was one of those can-you-believe-it moments.
It was the last night of the 2015-2016 legislative session, and the House and Senate were struggling to reach consensus on the best way to boost municipal recycling and reduce trash disposal to no more than 450 pounds per person per year. The Senate wanted to mandate that municipalities over time pare back how much trash they are burning, burying, or shipping out of state. The House wanted to move more cautiously, proposing a 13-member commission to come up with a plan for reaching the 450-pound figure.
But just when the Senate reluctantly came around to the House’s point of view, the House moved back the reporting date for the commission from Sept. 1, 2017, to April, 1, 2018. The Senate, worried that the seven-month delay could make it difficult to pass a consensus bill in the next legislative session, refused to budge on the Sept. 1 date. The House just as firmly insisted on April 2018, and that’s where the negotiations ended as the clock ran out on what many see as a ticking-time-bomb of a problem for municipalities and the state.
As the dust cleared, House officials whispered off the record that the push for the date change came from the Baker administration, specifically the Department of Environmental Protection and its commissioner, Martin Suuberg, who would have headed the proposed commission. Suuberg, House officials said, wanted to give the commission more time to deliberate.
Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, who was heavily involved in the trash talks, confirmed that House officials pointed the finger at the Department of Environmental Protection. “DEP was being blamed for insisting that they didn’t have enough resources to get it done within nine months,” Pacheco said.
“I thought that was a little bit much,” Pacheco added, pointing out that much of the research work on the state’s trash problem has already been done. A full analysis of the waste currently being generated has been done. Waste disposal costs are rising as landfills close. Community opposition to incinerators and landfills is building. And recycling in many communities is producing significant results.
“Sept. 1, 2017, I thought that was fair,” Pacheco said. “Nine months, plenty of time to get a resolution. Then they came back with the amendment for April of 2018, which essentially puts it into the second year of a two-year term. By the time the recommendation comes out, it’s very unlikely you’re going to get anything done.”
Asked who he was dealing with in the House, Pacheco said most of the negotiations took place through staff members working for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and the chairs of the Ways and Means committees in the two branches.
Rep. Theodore Speliotis of Danvers, who filed the amendment moving the commission’s reporting date back by seven months, left a voice message that he had nothing to add to what had already been reported.
DEP officials declined to comment.
Stephen Lisauskas, vice president at WasteZero, a North Andover company that advises municipalities on how to generate less trash, said it was frustrating that the House and Senate failed to come to terms.
“The issue is only getting worse and worse,” he said of the state’s trash problem. “We struggle just to get a commission to elevate the issue to a statewide discussion. Everybody was moving toward doing the same thing, but they couldn’t come together because of the date. It’s very discouraging.”
A correction has been made to this story. In the quote from Sen. Pacheco, he said Sept. 1, 2017, not 2018 as originally reported.