Published On: Wed, Mar 2nd, 2016

Yard waste in plastic bags triggers Kentucky political feud

A bill by two Louisville lawmakers seeks to dilute the authority of the metro solid waste board.

Two Louisville lawmakers have filed a bill to make changes in Louisville Metro’s solid waste board that a leading environmental advocate said puts its restrictions on plastic bags for yard waste in trouble.

Plastic Recycling

Yard waste in plastic bags triggers Kentucky political feud

House Bill 454 “reads to me as if it’s designed to neutralize the Louisville Metro’s Waste Management District,” said environmental engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham, the president-elect of the Kentucky Conservation Committee.

Its supporters say it’s meant to give cities in Jefferson County more say over solid waste matters.

Mayor Greg Fischer’s spokesman, Chris Poynter, said Louisville Metro officials are concerned. The plastic bag ban has been one of the mayor’s main environmental initiatives. The Fischer administration has also set ambitious goals for overall waste reduction and recycling  countywide, working through the solid waste district and its board.

But House Bill 454 would limit the waste board’s ability to impose new requirements on cities within Jefferson County such as the plastic bag ban as long as those cities meet state solid waste laws.

“We have serious concerns about the bill because having waste management and reduction policies that are consistent citywide are critical to the city’s future,” said Poynter. “We will be talking to the bill sponsor to learn more.”

The sponsors are Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, and Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville.

Cities such as St. Matthews and others are better suited to make their own recycling and waste management plans, Rigg said. “It’s not about plastic bags,” but he acknowledged it would allow cities to drop the ban if they wanted.

Miller said the bill seeks to recognize home rule for cities and to make sure the solid waste board’s authority is consistent with state law. “The bag issue really didn’t come up” when discussing the bill with Riggs, Miller said.

The plastic bag ban has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2015. Metro Council Republicans, including Miller when he was on the council, objected but were not able to get Metro Council to overturn the ban. The Courier-Journal reported in November that Councilman Kelly Downard was still trying, and his proposed ordinance is on a council committee agenda for Tuesday.

Miller had argued before that the mayor had bypassed Metro Council because he didn’t have the votes. Others said unelected boards should not create legislation.

“We already have problems getting people to mow their grass” and “keeping up their properties,” Miller said at the time. “This is going to be pretty significant.”

City officials have, since then, reported widespread compliance and acceptance of the ban.

In addition to the limits on cities within the Jefferson County, the bill would require the district’s board appointments be approved by Metro Council and require one member to come from the local league of small cities and another from the solid waste industry and would limit fees paid to the district.

District officials have said the ban was needed because plastic has been contaminating yard waste, making it harder to produce commercial compost. The goal has been to keep yard waste out of landfills, but when it’s contaminated with plastic, that’s where it ends up.

A lot of other cities have similar policies to discourage plastic bags for yard waste, they argued.

Riggs said the bill is scheduled to go before the Kentucky House Local Government Committee on Wednesday at noon.