Environment

A bill that would change the way Louisville’s Waste Management district is structured is scheduled to go before a Senate committee Wednesday.

House Bill 246 — which the House approved last month — deals with a low-profile board called the 109 Board, which oversees waste in the city. The 109 Board is made up of five representatives, all appointed by the mayor.

The bill’s opponents — which include Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer — say its point is to overturn the city’s ban on plastic bags for yard waste. But supporters — among them the Jefferson County League of Cities — say the bag ban isn’t the force behind the legislation, and the measure is simply meant to increase transparency.

“What has taken up a lot of ink, unfortunately, has been a fixation among some people who think that this is all designed to throw out the plastic bag ban,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Miller of Louisville. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The leader of the Jefferson County League of Cities is [Jeffersontown] Mayor [Bill] Dieruf. J-town was the first one to ban plastic bags.”

So, which is it? What does House Bill 246 actually do?

More Transparency

One thing everyone agrees on — the fact, not necessarily the merit of the action — is that HB 246 will change the makeup of the 109 Board.

The board currently has five members, all appointed by the Louisville mayor. If this bill is signed into law, it would abolish the current board and create a new seven-member board. That board would include a representative from the Jefferson County League of Cities and the waste haulers’ association.

The bill also sets term limits for the board. Attorney Schuyler Olt, who represents four small cities, said it is meant to increase transparency.

“I don’t understand why the 109 Board has so long operated in the dark to where you can’t easily find out even who is on that board. And given the amount of power that it has, it’s not a good situation,” he said. “I think for what the 109 Board is charged to do, which is obviously very important to our well-being, our public health, we just have to have a more transparent, more involved, more engaged solid waste management board.”

‘The Politicians Want Power’

But longtime 109 Board member Joyce St. Clair had a different take.

“What it’s about is power,” she said. “It’s simple. You can write paragraph after paragraph, but basically, the politicians want power.”

Even after remaking the 109 Board to include greater representation from small cities and waste haulers, the bill gives small cities another way out from following any of the board’s regulations.

It says the board has the power to adopt rules and regulations, but then adds: “These rules and regulations shall not be enforceable within the boundaries of the city until approved by the legislative body of the city or, if outside of an incorporated municipality, the legislative body of the consolidated local government, where the rule or regulation is intended to apply.”

Which would mean a regulation like the oft-mentioned plastic leaf bag ban, for example, couldn’t be enforced in Beuchel or Shively or Jeffersontown unless their city councils signed off on it, too.

Haulers’ Fee

There’s another part of the bill that has the potential to wreck havoc in the way Jefferson County handles its waste, according to Sarah Lynn Cunningham. She serves on the county’s solid waste advisory board and is campaigning against the bill.

A provision would block Metro government and the 109 Board from charging a small city “any fee that is based, directly or indirectly, on the composition of the solid waste stream of that city if the solid waste stream is in conformity with state and federal law for the use of the solid waste management facility receiving the waste.”

Cunningham said this could throw a wrench in a 5 percent fee landfills charge for waste — a charge that’s not levied on yard waste in paper bags, which is compostable. That money helps fund other waste programs, like the Haz Bin, where residents can dispose of hazardous materials for free.

If HB 246 becomes law, her worry is the small cities will argue they don’t have to pay that fee.

“I would say my biggest concern is they would get services for which they haven’t contributed any funding, and that’s just wrong,” she said.

And that could inflict another hit on that plastic bag ban bill: If landfill operators can’t charge haulers more for garbage than compostable material, there’s no financial incentive to keep yard waste out of the landfill. And that could end up having ramifications for the lifespan of Louisville’s landfill, which right now is only projected to last for another 50 years.

HB 246 is scheduled to go before the Senate State and Local Government committee on Wednesday.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.