Draft for Comment: SUBSIDIES FOR WASTE

Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:59:32 -0500

[Below is a draft document addressing the third of the three core
messages of the Grassroots Recycling Network. We will be aiming to
ratify statements on each oif the messages at the Georgia Kick-off
conference, April 5-7. Help us improve it. Please give your
comments on this draft via this greenyes listserve.]


The Grassroots Recycling Network advocates ending, or drastically reducing,
all subsidies that promote wasting - and investing instead in activities
that conserve resources and create more local jobs.

Wasting depends on subsidies at four major points along a linear, treadmill
to disposal -- from extracting raw materials, through manufacturing and
retailing, through transport, and on to final burial or incineration. These
are the Four Horsemen of Waste Subsidies. We must address the full
sequence of waste subsidies, from cradle to grave, if we are to move to an
ample and safe materials economy.

1. Raw Material Extraction Subsidies We support ending subsidies for
oil, gas, timber and mining activities and energy, and investing in
recycling infrastructure instead. Many of the existing subsidies and tax
write-offs were created when America was a developing agrarian country.
These tax laws promoted exploitation of the nation's natural resources to
create an industrial infrastructure capable of supplying feed-stock for new
developing industries. Now tax policy needs to be reexamined to account
for proliferation of waste and dwindling supplies of natural resources.
These antiquated laws and regulations substantially impede development of a
recycling-based economy. Much progress has been made in this effort. 1986
tax reforms reduced or abolished past subsidies. Energy subsidies to the
aluminum industry are still significant. Today, virgin materials companies
receive at least $1 billion in government subsidies annually.

2. Manufacturing and Retail Subsidies We support increasing
manufacturer responsibility for disposal costs of all products, and
especially for over-packaged, flimsy, and single-use products. Currently,
disposal costs for these products are borne (that is, subsidized) by local
governments and tax payers. Manufacturers and retailers must be required
to use recycled feedstocks, to build the costs of disposal into product
pricing, and to take back used durable goods and refurbish or recycle them.

3. Waste Facility Subsidies We support ending local, state and
federal subsidies for waste facilities, including landfills and
incinerators. Incinerators are very expensive facilities that compete with
recycling for material and limited funds, and captures far less energy than
recycling saves. Significant progress has been made requiring incinerators
to internalize environmental costs. In the case of landfills, however,
most environmental costs are subsidized by future generations. We must
recognize that the federally mandated 'dry tomb' design (RCRA Subtitle D)
is flawed: it postpones environmental contamination in most locations
unless perpetual care -- and cash infusions - are applied to keep the tomb
dry. We need to expose the myth that dry tomb landfills represent a safe
and cheap solution to discard management. And we must change federal
landfill regulations (RCRA Subtitle D) to require payment of full
environmental costs up front. If waste facilities are starved of subsidies
and are required to pay their full share, then total recycling facilities
will simply out-compete them.

4. Waste Transport Subsidies We support the right of states and
communities to say "no" to out-of-state waste. By forcing communities to
accept imported waste in ever larger private landfills and incinerators,
current law forces local taxpayers to assume perpetual responsibility for
others' trash. That is a forced subsidy. Furthermore, as events in
Wisconsin and other states have demonstrated, forcing communities to accept
imported waste means that taxpayers who make an effort to recycle and
reduce waste are merely freeing up landfill space for -- and thus
subsidizing -- cheap disposal for others' garbage. The waste hauling
industry has stymied attempts in Congress to pass Right to Say No
legislation for five years, despite broad bipartisan support. We will
expose their true agenda and work to pass state and community rights
legislation that allows local control of waste disposal decisions.

We realize that in order to End Corporate Subsidies for Waste, we must get
money out of politics. Each of the Four Horseman of Waste Subsidies have
formidable lobbying and political action budgets that will try to stymie
and reverse any legislative initiatives we promote to end the subsidies.
Many studies have documented the high correlation between industry
political contributions and the voting records of recipient politicians.
Progress on laws to promote recycling and sustainability may not be
possible without fundamental campaign finance reform.

Corporate contributions are helping to keep in place billions of dollars in
federal, state and local subsidies for the timber, mining, petroleum, and
waste disposal industries. Indeed, total federal tax breaks and subsidies
for corporations in these industries have been estimated at $104 billion
dollars -- much of which goes to preserve unsustainable virgin materials
extraction and waste disposal industries. In 1992, the amounts contributed
to congressional campaigns and national parties by industry PACs and
affiliated individuals, and the related federal subsidies for those
industries for a few selected sectors, were as follows:

* Waste Management Industry $2.7 million in contributions, $300
million in subsidies
* Mining Industry $1 million in contributions, $2 billion in subsidies
* Oil Industry $23 million in contributions, $8.8 billion in subsidies

In the recycling arena, specifically, the plastics, paper, packaging,
consumer products, retail, and waste management industries have all lined
up, at one time or another, against recycling, environmental, and community
development advocates to defeat:

* new or expanded bottle bills, deposit laws, or advance disposal
fees initiatives to require recycled content in manufactured products laws
to set recycling and waste reduction targets for local and state

* efforts to stop waste incinerators and to increase waste reduction
and recycling programs; and,

* initiatives to shift taxes onto waste, pollution, and fossil fuel usage.

In short, we propose to shift the taxes and subsidies, gradually, to
accomplish a transition to total recycling. New priorities that encourage
the use of recovered resources are needed now. Let's seize the current
opportunity to permanently transform the country's theory of taxation.

Conversion to a society where waste is reduced and resources are reused,
repaired and recycled has been artificially impeded by a tax policy that
needs to be reformed. The promotion of the general welfare for ourselves
and our posterity is what is at stake. Our elected officials need to know
our feelings on the Governments role in promoting economic sustainability.