Thursday, October 25, 2007

New Hartford v. CRRA

The Waterbury Republican-American published this editorial on Wednesday, Oct. 24:

Towns should stop suing themselves

The class-action lawsuit pitting 70 Connecticut towns against the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority comes down to a loss of trust and the lawsuit industry's eagerness to exploit conflict. Little good is likely to come of it.

CRRA lost $220 million in making a fiscally and ethically dubious loan to now-defunct Enron Corp. The agency and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are trying to recover as much of that money as they can through litigation. The towns sued CRRA last year, claiming it should give them some of the money it has recovered because it double-dipped — covering its losses through tipping-fee increases while getting some of the money back in court.

CRRA officials say, correctly, the towns are suing themselves. That's because the $35.9 million they won in court ultimately will go back to the CRRA, either through successful appeals or further tipping-fee increases. Indeed, CRRA has prepared a chart that shows fees ranging from $69 to $80 per ton from 2008-13 if it wins the appeal, and from $86 to $89 from 2009-12 if it loses.

Perhaps even worse, if CRRA disburses the money to the towns and subsequently wins its appeal, the towns will have to give the money back — minus an unrecoverable $10 million to $12 million paid to lawyers.

But even that is not the worst of it. Those guarding the diminishing Enron stash will hold up the $35.9 million payment as evidence CRRA is not entitled to further damage claims.

CRRA is a quasi-public agency that exists to serve the towns by disposing of their trash and garbage. If CRRA and the towns trusted each other's motives and analysis, the lawsuit never would have been filed. In this respect, Superior Court Judge Dennis G. Eveleigh did no one (except the lawyers) any favors by imposing a months-long gag order on the parties that blocked any effort by either side to restore trust.

CRRA is right to fight this ruling to protect its own interests and those of its client towns. The towns' position is understandable; CRRA lost their trust the day the Enron loan went sour and won't get it back overnight. But it's no less true that both sides are destined to come out of this dispute a little lighter in the wallet thanks to the machinations of the lawsuit industry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Where does your garbage go?

A story in this morning's Hartford Courant includes a common misconception about Connecticut's garbage system:
Bags wind up in our landfills; in our oceans, killing sea life; and, as Alan Ball demonstrated in his 1999 film "American Beauty," in our streets and courtyards, circling like kites or bubbles in passing air currents.

Just about everything Connecticut residents throw away -- which we should do only if it can't be re-used or recycled -- winds up in a trash-to-energy plant. All that winds up in a landfill is the ash produced by combusting trash, and between recycling and trash-to-energy we reduce by 90 percent the amount of stuff we're actually landfilling.

Want to know more? Check our Web site or click here for a slide show on the trash-to-energy process. The slide show is a pretty large file so it will take some time to load, but we think you'll find it interesting.

How many of you are using the new re-usable grocery bags?

Thursday, October 4, 2007


A proposal by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for the Department of Public Utility Control to regulate garbage disposal continues to generate interest. For instance, it was the subject of this editorial in the Connecticut section of the New York Times on Sunday, Sept. 30, and there is more news coverage to come.

Attorney General Blumenthal announced his proposal after discussing the matter with a group of Fairfield County mayors and first selectmen, who explained to him that the operator of the Bridgeport trash-to-energy plant could have a de facto unregulated monopoly on trash disposal starting January 1, 2009, when it can take full control of the facility.

Read the Attorney General’s news release here.

Connecticut has six trash-to-energy plants that process about 90 percent of the state’s non-recycled garbage. Within 10 years, five of those plants could be completely under private control, meaning their owners could charge whatever they feel the market would bear.

Trash disposal is vital to protecting the environment and public health. It is an essential public service.

At the center of Blumenthal’s argument is the fact that there are no other disposal facilities in southwestern Connecticut, and it is apparent that no new trash-to-energy plants or solid waste landfills will be built in Connecticut, so towns in that part of the state will have two choices: do business with the Bridgeport plant or ship their trash by truck or rail to a landfill in Ohio or Pennsylvania or Virginia. CRRA has contended for years that relying on out-of-state facilities would mean the people of Connecticut would have no control over how their trash is disposed of (do other states have the same strict environmental safeguards as Connecticut?) or how much it would cost (could other states impose new taxes on out-of-state trash haulers? And what about the cost of diesel fuel?).

Adding trash disposal to DPUC’s list of responsibilities would require legislation. Such oversight would need to be managed within the towns’ flow-control rights as granted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Since 1988, CRRA has had a contract with Wheelabrator, which runs the Bridgeport plant, to take garbage from 18 CRRA member cities and towns in southwestern Connecticut. When that contract expires, on December 31, 2008, the plant ownership will transfer to Wheelabrator. Unless we negotiate a new or extended renewal agreement with Wheelabrator, the plant will be Wheelabrator’s to use as it pleases.

CRRA is in good-faith negotiations with Wheelabrator, and a successful resolution of those negotiations – a long-term contract at a below-market price – is our goal and our preference. Further, we are optimistic about reaching an agreement in the next two or three months. The Attorney General’s proposal does not impact or interfere with CRRA’s initative to negotiate an agreement renewal. We are here to serve the towns’ best interests, and that long-term below-market contract we’re working toward would accomplish that mission.

We do need to clarify a couple of misconceptions that have arisen in the press coverage of this proposal:
• First, some of the press accounts seemed to confuse disposal with hauling. A hauler – either your city or town or a private company – collects your trash at the curb and brings it to us for disposal. CRRA is not a hauler. The Attorney General has also called for stricter oversight of the hauling industry.
• Second, CRRA, contrary to one report, operates under plenty of oversight. Our Board of Directors – mainly mayors and first selectmen of cities and towns we serve – is appointed by the Governor and legislative leadership. And we will compare our record of openness and transparency with any other public entity.

We should point out that the Mid-Connecticut Project trash-to-energy facility in Hartford is owned by CRRA lock, stock and barrel, and barring any unforeseen circumstances it will be publicly owned permanently.

What do you think? Click on the word "comments" below to tell us.