LANSING — Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a steep rise in Michigan's fee for taking waste to landfills, saying it would generate $79 million annually for the cleanup of contaminated sites and other environmental programs.
The plan would raise the landfill dumping fee from 36 cents per ton to $4.75 per ton, although Snyder noted that other Midwestern states charge as much as $13 per ton. It would replace the Clean Michigan Initiative, a bond issue approved by voters in 1998 that generated $675 million but is expected to dry up this year.
"Michiganders deserve a smart and safe plan to ensure the protection of our environment and public health – today, tomorrow and for generations to come," Snyder said.
Despite progress under the existing program, Snyder's administration and lawmakers have struggled to find a new revenue source to deal with some 7,000 abandoned paper mills, foundries and other hazardous industrial sites awaiting cleanup. In many cases, the companies that owned them no longer exist, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
Lawmakers rejected the Republican governor's suggestion last year for a one-time shift of $15 million from a separate fund for leaking underground fuel tanks. But a supplemental bill in December transferred $14 million from a state infrastructure fund.
Officials have discussed another bond initiative. But Snyder noted in his State of the State address last week that Michigan will be paying off the current bonds for 10 more years.
"We can come up with a better initiative to keep going and do it in a way where hopefully we don't leave our kids in debt after we've spent the money," he said then.
Of the money raised under his plan, which would require the Legislature's approval, $45 million annually would go to tainted site cleanup, with a goal of handling about 300 locations per year. Those funds also help deal with the emerging problem of contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of chemicals used in industrial applications and consumer goods ranging from carpeting to firefighting foams.
An additional $15 million would fund grants to step up local recycling infrastructure, market development and education. Snyder, serving his last year as governor, said during his speech that lack of progress on recycling had been one of his biggest disappointments.
"We've gotten complacent," he said. "We thought we did the (bottle and can) deposit law, so we're doing great on recycling. We're behind. We're half the national average on recycling. We have to do more. It's for our own good and it's for the well-being of our society and the world."
The remaining funds would go to local governments for solid waste planning; grants for water quality projects such as beach monitoring and removing contaminants from rivers and lakes; and improving state park infrastructure.
Snyder's proposal drew praise from the Michigan Environmental Council.
"With stories of contaminated drinking water headlining papers across the state, waiting even a year to secure new … funding would be a devastating blow to local economies where industrial contamination has prevented growth and polluted drinking water supplies," said Chris Kolb, the group's president.