UPDATE: Jefferson County, KY to sue state over waste bill passed by Gov. Bevin

UPDATE, March 23: Governor Matt Bevin has signed HB 246 into law and the county 109 Board has authorized the Jefferson County Attorney's office to sue the state over it, as reported by the Courier-Journal. The board made the decision in a special meeting on the basis that this new law violates the state's constitution.

Officials are concerned that the law will make it harder to reach a consensus among the dozens of municipalities within the county over using plastic bags for yard waste, starting a curbside food waste program in Louisville and other initiatives. The attorney's office has not announced when the lawsuit will be filed yet.

UPDATE, March 20: The Kentucky General Assembly passed HB 246 on March 15 and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has since asked Governor Matt Bevin to veto it, as reported by WFPL

The bill's supporters say it would give more representation to some of the 80 smaller municipalities that are part of Jefferson County, but Fischer says it would unnecessarily complicate the implementation of new solid waste policies. Requiring the governing bodies of all municipalities to approve decisions made by the countywide 109 Board could hinder or block rules that apply to the landfill which they all share. In his letter, Fischer argued that the law is unconstitutional because it would treat one class of cities differently than others. 

"The only justification articulated for the disparate treatment of the Louisville Metro Solid Waste Management District is that we are a consolidated government. This distinction makes no difference. Our 109 Board has been governing all municipalities within Jefferson County since its creation 25 years ago," he wrote.

Dive Brief:

  • HB 246, a bill currently making its way though Kentucky's state legislature, is meant to update how Jefferson County's waste management district is structured. Yet opponents see it as a way to alter a current ban on disposing of yard waste in plastic bags, as reported by WFPL.
  • This district body, the 109 Board, currently has five members that are appointed by the mayor of Louisville. As proposed by the bill, the board would switch to having seven term-limited members. One member would be appointed by the Jefferson County League of Cities and one by a local waste hauler's association.
  • Opponents of the bill take issue with two provisions. One would allow small municipalities to avoid county regulations, such as the yard waste bag ban, if their local governments didn't approve. Another provision could block the 109 Board or regional government from charging a fee on yard waste in plastic bags, reducing the incentive for residents to divert their material for composting.

Dive Insight:

The nuances of this legislation remain complex even to some local officials, inspiring different views of its intentions and potential effects. Though the legislation has been billed as an effort to create greater transparency on the 109 Board, the yard waste-related side effects have received the most attention. The county adopted its current yard waste regulations in 2014 with the goal of encouraging landfill diversion through composting the material.

While states such as Vermont have decided to pursue outright yard waste bans in their landfills the material has inspired varying approaches in different parts of the country. Other states have recently considered overturning their own bans and a study in Omaha recently found that it would be more sustainable for the city to co-collect its yard waste with refuse from an emissions standpoint.

If HB 246 does pass it may prompt similar conversations among municipal leaders and public works officials about how to best proceed. The potential loss of the fee that local landfills are allowed to charge for the material could also affect funding for other programs such as hazardous waste collection. The bill received its most recent committee hearing on March 8, from which it was reported favorably for potential movement forward.

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Filed Under: Landfill Recycling Regulation