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Immediate issues Senate takes up, should pass laws on both ends of environmental cycle

State lawmaking nearly took a back seat a while back to the political power struggle gripping the Senate, but eventually issues such as the landfill "disposal" tax introduced by Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, D-Buffalo, will get a second look.

As the Senate reconvenes today, the session will include proposed legislation that reinstates a hazardous waste land disposal tax voided by Chemical Waste Management (CWM) in court a few years ago. The tax already is on the books, but in need of major tweaking.

At the other end of the environmental spectrum, the Senate also will take up a New York Green Jobs/Green Homes initiative already passed by the Assembly. The program would leverage federal stimulus funds and private investment into an energy audit and retrofit of up to 1 million New York homes, making them more energy efficient so they use less fuel, emit fewer greenhouse gases and provide training and employment for an estimated 60,000 workers.

The "green" bill, co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Thompson, George D. Maziarz and William T. Stachowski, is scheduled for a vote today and should be passed.

The current landfill tax bill applies primarily to out-of-state generators who dump their toxic wastes here and pay no disposal tax in New York, in contrast to the practice in other states.

None of the waste imported from out of state to CWM's landfill is taxed. If restoring that old-tax revenue is not enough incentive, of the estimated $3.3 million to be collected 90 percent would go to the Department of Environmental Conservation's Remedial Fund and 10 percent to county health departments to protect citizens from the hazards.

There are two types of taxes: generator and disposal. Generator tax law says if you generate waste in New York you will pay tax. Exemptions include generating waste as a result of a Superfund or other remedial action.

But if someone is generating waste outside the state and sending it here, they pay no generator tax. There's no way to do that except to call it a "disposal tax," an effort that was voided in court here.

The disposal tax will apply primarily to out-of-state companies that dispose of wastes here. There aren't many in-state businesses that dispose of such wastes at CWM, so there is credence to the argument that there will be little impact on New York State businesses from paying both a generator and disposal tax.

Still, advocates of this legislation sought to offset any such effect by decreasing the generator tax from $27 to $7 a ton and reinstituting the disposal tax at $20. That means a New York business today is paying $27 per ton to use any hazardous waste landfill in the country. If this bill passes, businesses would pay $7 to generate and $20 to landfill. Meantime, everyone who has been paying nothing to dump here starts paying $20, which adds up to more than $3.3 million to New York.

Remedial cleanups should be treated the same across the country. And as advocates have stated, the tax also is appropriate to deter what Congress and New York State consider the least preferable method of managing hazardous waste: land disposal.

This area should not be the cheapest place in the United States to operate these facilities. Other states have disposal taxes, and so should this one.

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