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Wasted Effort

Gov. George Deukmejian acted on a progressive California waste-disposal and -recycling program one day last week just as the Reagan Administration’s environmental agency was announcing a new proposal for waste disposal and recycling.

But while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was advancing a general outline for dealing with the staggering problem of waste, the governor of California was using his veto to kill a remarkably similar, but better, plan on the state level. In vetoing the bill the governor took sides in a special-interest administrative turf war while ignoring the fact that each Californian accounts for more than 2,500 pounds of waste a year, nearly twice the national figure.

The measure, sponsored by Assembly members Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) and Dominic L. Cortese (D-San Jose), would have required all California cities and counties to develop solid-waste-reduction and -recycling plans by the end of 1992. The plans would require a 25% reduction in landfill waste disposal through recycling or other means. A companion measure would encourage recycling by allowing a 10% tax credit on the purchase of waste material designed to be recovered. Another bill would provide incentive to the state to buy recycled products by offering a 10% bonus to the seller.

Proponents of the legislation noted that nearly 90% of the state’s solid waste is being disposed of in landfills and that the dumps are reaching capacity faster than they can be expanded. Eight counties already are on a special list because they have less than five years of landfill capacity remaining, and it takes about five years to locate and develop a new landfill. And recycling saves money. The city of San Jose estimates that by 1992 waste disposal with recycling will cost $30 a ton compared with $50 a ton for landfill disposal.

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But Deukmejian chose to veto the Killea-Cortese bill on narrow bureaucratic grounds. He noted that current law administered by the state Solid Waste Management Board already requires the 58 counties to have waste-disposal plans that encourage recycling. Rather than establish a separate program under the Department of Conservation, as the Killea-Cortese bill would have done, recycling should be folded into waste-management plans, he said. Proponents noted that Deukmejian chose to side with the California Refuse Removal Council, the primary major opponent of the legislation, which insisted that the Waste Management Board get jurisdiction over waste recycling.

The Legislature will have to try again during the next session to implement an effective recycling program. In the meantime, of course, the waste keeps piling up. The landfills get fuller. And California courts yet another environmental crisis.


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