The Missouri General Assembly has adjourned without reinstating the state's scrap tire fee, a move creating various levels of concern inside Missouri and in the tire recycling community.
The fee of 50 cents per tire for every new tire sold in the state had been in place since 1990. It lapsed Jan. 1 after the assembly failed to renew it during its 2003 session, and it adjourned its 2004 session May 14 without approving any of the 10 different bills that would have reinstated the fee.
A last-minute filibuster prevented passage of the furthest advanced of the bills in the state Senate, according to Dave Overfelt, legislative consultant to the Missouri Tire Industry Association.
``If they'd had a few more hours, they probably would have passed it,'' Mr. Overfelt said. But the senators who opposed the bill saw it as pork-barrel legislation to benefit certain tire recyclers in the state, he added.
Meanwhile, the scrap tire program within the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has been dismantled, according to Beth Marsala, an enforcement section chief within the MDNR's Solid Waste Program.
``There's a little over $2 million in the scrap tire fund, and all of it is obligated for cleanups,'' Ms. Marsala said. ``We have 2.5 million tires out there we won't be able to get to, and probably more we don't know about. The whole infrastructure is starting to crumble.''
According to a fact sheet on the MDNR Web site, the scrap tire fee financed the collection, disposal and/or recycling of more than 12 million scrap tires in Missouri, as well as funding the proper management of the 5 million waste tires the state generates annually.
Through the scrap tire fund, the state reimbursed non-profit organizations for their scrap tire cleanup efforts and gave 259 grants worth $1.3 million to communities to buy recycled rubber surfacing for playgrounds. These programs are now dead, Ms. Marsala said, as are enforcement efforts for the state's scrap tire laws.
``The state will have no funds for (scrap tire) abatement, enforcement or market development,'' added Michael Blumenthal, senior technical director for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. ``If a permit for processing or using scrap tires comes in, it will be processed, but how long will it take?''
Mr. Blumenthal called Missouri's inaction ``a very unsettling thing'' because it leaves a void in the state's enforcement abilities.
``Here's a state that has one of the premier programs in all the country,'' he said. ``They have markets for all of their tires. Dumping is not a problem. They did a very good job of cleaning up most of their large piles, and they still have a few million to go, but they were on track. They've done everything right.''
Mr. Blumenthal noted that Missouri had created self-sustaining markets that won't be affected in the short-term, but the longer the state has no funds to support enforcement, the more likely illegal tire dumping will return as a problem.
``It's not going to happen overnight, but we're talking the beginning of a situation, which over time if left unchecked, could start to threaten the underpinnings of the infrastructure,'' he said.
The MTIA was neutral about reinstating the fee, Mr. Overfelt said, ``but we had to be involved in the process so they wouldn't do anything that would be unfair to our members.'' While Mr. Overfelt acknowledged that stockpile abatement efforts would be set back by the loss of the fee, he said that Missouri's existing scrap tire markets and current laws on scrap tire handling and hauling will work very well to prevent new stockpiling without a fee.
Meanwhile, it's likely the assembly will take up the tire fee issue again, but it won't reconvene until next January, Mr. Blumenthal said.
The next state whose scrap tire fee is due to lapse is Georgia, where the fee will lapse in 2005, Mr. Blumenthal said. That state has charged $1 on each new tire sold since July 1, 1992. Officials of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division could not be reached for comment.
Tire Business Senior Reporter Vera Fedchenko contributed to this report.