State leaders struggle to find funding for waste cleanup

Thursday, March 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:42 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Looking out for Missouri’s environmental health is a contact sport, especially in the case of hazardous waste cleanup.

Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources last year worried that the fees they collect to cover the state’s share of cleanup costs would go the way of the dinosaur — like the newly expired waste-tire collection fee did earlier this week. Their concern centered around debate within the legislature about how to most equitably assess the waste-disposal fees.

Due to some movement in the General Assembly this year, however, they may have more time to determine how certain costs will be covered in the future.

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that extends the sunset date of the Hazardous Waste Category and Land Disposal Fees to the end of 2006. The fees, which are scheduled to expire in January 2005, have been collected since the mid-1980s from local businesses and individuals who create and process toxic waste.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, also calls for establishing a joint committee to study options for restructuring the fee assessment — something legislators questioned last year.

Griesheimer said the fee structure isn’t competitive in comparison to other states, although he supports extending it for now. The joint committee, if established, would be required to make a recommendation to the governor by December.

Environmental cleanups often take a combined effort by state and federal government officials, local communities and activists. As toxic waste sites are discovered, these groups must try to reach consensus about which sites are most hazardous and require immediate spending.

While state officials are happy that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has added the Annapolis lead mine in Iron County to its Superfund National Priorities List, for example, the situation presents a challenge because the state would have to pay about 10 percent of the cost if the EPA is to fund the cleanup of the site.

DNR environmental planner Robert Stout said such costs typically have been financed by the state’s Hazardous Waste and Land Disposal fees. Although Stout considers EPA’s attention to the Iron County mine a victory, he said the state would be responsible for covering a large chunk of the cost, which could run millions of dollars.

Stout said similar joint projects, such as a mine cleanup in Jasper County, have placed Missouri in a position where it owes the federal government thousands of dollars — even with the money it pays from its fee collections. The remedial fund garners something close to $2.6 million a year.

Stout is optimistic that action in the legislature will address the issue.

“We have time as a government to make reasonable plans,” he said.

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