Last February, at a time when there was growing public concern over safety of methods to dispose of toxic wastes, the administration of Gov. Harry Hughes proposed what was called a model program to deal with the issue by creating a special board to choose storage sites for hazardous chemicals and encourage the use of creative recycling technologies.
This toxic-waste bill was placed near the top of the list of the governor's priorities for the General Assembly session and was quickly embraced by the legislature's leadership. It passed, easily, on the last day of the session, and was hailed as the state's foremost environmental measure of the year.
Now, almost a year later, it is clear that the promise of the toxic-waste law was very different than its reality.The centerpiece of the bill, the Hazardous Waste Siting Board, has met a half-dozen times since it was created, long enough for its members to realize that most of their time, and most of their $47,000 annual budget, is being spent finding one new landfill site to be used primarily by the Baltimore plant of the giant Allied Chemical conglomerate.
As it turns out, the only pressing toxic-waste problem in Maryland when the new law was passed was the need for this new landfill. And unbeknownst to many environmentalists at the time, Allied's behind-the-scenes lobbying was largely responsible for Hughes' decision to promote the legislation in the first place.
The story of the hazardous-waste bill is one of a familiar process of government: the transformation of a special-interest quick-fix into a sweeping program of far wider appeal. The "environmental" bill that ended up passing the legislature last year began with a gripe from one company and its friends in the Baltimore establishment, blossomed into a broad program of long-term solutions, and now that all the promotion is over, is quietly shrinking back to the interests that originally motivated it.
As a side effect, the new program is one that will help the general public, but most of that benefit lies in the prospective future.
"The real push that got this bill moving came from the Baltimore business establishment," said Annapolis Del. Gerald Winegrad, an environmentalist who worked on the drafting of the legislation. "But sometimes bills that help business and industry are good for the environment, too."
Despite the dream of creative new technology, 78 percent of the state's annual production of hazardous wastes is suitable only for a landfill, the Hazardous Waste Board has learned, and a new landfill site is the only facility the state really needs in the near future.
What's more, well over half of the 209,000 tons of landfill material in the state comes from Allied Chemical, which makes tons of a moist, heavy, sand-like waste every day that is laced with toxic chrome. In 18 months, the state now estimates, Allied will need a new site to bury the stuff.
"I'm very frustrated by the results of our studies," said John Menke, a former politician attracted to the new board by the prospect of innovative treatment of the state's refuse. "It turns out that Allied Chemical does contribute the majority of the problem of hazardous waste, and to that extent you could say that all we're looking for is a solution for Allied Chemical."
The chain of decisions and events that led to the enactment of this broad environmental legislation, in fact, began two years ago with the same narrow problem: Allied Chemical's plant in industry-loving Baltimore threatened to move out.
The firm, which employs 380 near the city's harbor making "a full line of chrome chemicals," according to a spokesman, went so far as to acquire property in another state because of the lack of adequate sites to bury its waste cheaply.
Allied's problems became acute in April 1978 when the landfill it was using, Hawkins Point in Baltimore City, filled up, forcing the company to take its chromium sludge to a private landfill in Anne Arundel County that not only charged exorbitant fees in the company's view, but was threatened with closure itself.
And so, the company's local executive, P.D. Gilhooley, took his complaint to William Boucher III, who for more than two decades has been crusading for Baltimore's business interests as the director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a sort of super chamber of commerce for the city's 100 largest companies.
Boucher quickly went to work, and by the following December, the GBC had produced a 17-page report on "Hazardous Waste Disposal in Maryland," which, on two inside pages, worked its way around to the Allied problem. Then, with the report in hand, Boucher went to the state office building in Baltimore to pay a visit on the then governor-elect, Harry Hughes, whom he had befriended years before when Hughes was a state senator.
Boucher's pitch to the incoming governor was capsulized in a letter he sent Hughes a year and a half later, when the problem was nearly resolved: "What we are talking about," he said, "is retaining an industry in Maryland that is on the verge of leaving.
"Allied Chemical's plant employs 357 people, pays direct taxes of 7.6 million dollars per year, purchases goods and services of 12 million dollars per year, has a replacement value of 50 million in that plant, in the last seven years has invested 10.6 million dollars in that plant and occupies an acreage of slightly over 19 acres in Baltimore."
That sentence -- and not the reports of concerned environmentalists about toxic leakage from landfills or illegal dumping -- contained the key figures of the GBC report, and Boucher now says Hughes was quick to respond. "We got an immediate reaction that this was considered a major problem," Boucher said. Hughes assigned a lawyer on his staff, George Liebman, to begin working with Boucher's staff on possible relief for Allied's complaints.
Later, as the work on the issue increased, both the Baltimore Committee and Allied used their attorneys from the firm of Miles and Stockbridge in Baltimore, where Hughes worked before becoming governor.
From the viewpoint of Allied and the GBC, the problem was not simply one of capacity at the various landfill sites around the state. Allied had in fact done its own studies of where new landfills might be opened in the Baltimore area -- some of them in coordination with state agencies -- but when it had tried to gain the approval of Baltimore County for a new site to solve its problem, it had been rebuffed because of local political opposition. No one, it seemed, was willing to have toxic chrome buried in his area.
And so, the GBC believed that some kind mechanism of state intervention was necessary to allow Allied and other firms to find new disposal sites without local political interference. Meanwhile, a temporary solution was needed so that Allied could have quick relief.
Although it took nearly 18 months, Allied and GBC got both of their requests.
The work in the legislature proved most difficult. At the time of the first meetings between the GBC and Hughes' office, a bill was moving through the legislature with opposite intentions -- reaffirming the prerogative of local officials to prevent private companies or the state from locating landfills in their areas. With the urging of the GBC, Hughes vetoed that bill.
Then, Boucher explained his position to Baltimore Del. Torrey Brown, the chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee -- which had approved the bill Hughes vetoed and could have voted to override the governor's action. Brown decided to appoint a special subcommittee to study the hazardous waste problem during the summer of 1979, and won approval from the House leadership for special staffing for it.
In addition to the staff and delegates, a representative of the GBC and of major waste disposal companies sat in on the meetings.
By early fall, the subcommittee members, state officials and the governor's staff had agreed on the idea of having a special state board that could give companies permission to open hazardous waste disposal sites regardless of local opposition, or find sites itself to be operated by the Maryland Environmental Service, which was to provide the board's staff.
Then, a curious transformation in tone overtook the legislation, perhaps best exemplified by the switch of preambles printed on it. The draft that emerged from the governor's office said that the legislation was designed to "further commerce and economic development in the state," but when the politically conscious delegates in the House committee got through with it, it said "the primary concerns of this Act are to insure proper safeguards to the health and safety of the public and protect the quality of the environment."
Suddenly, the legislation that the Greater Baltimore Committee had suggested at the impetus of Allied Chemical had become an environmental bill. And no wonder -- two weeks after the bill was introduced, the ill-stored PCB at Sharptown became an issue again as the movement of the chemicals to a site in Anne Arundel County sparked publicized demonstrations and protests from county officials.
When the GBC prepared another report selling the bill to legislators, it didn't even mention Allied. Instead, it began by saying that hazardous waste disposal "is an issue which is receiving increased public attention, and which has profound implications for the health and economy of the state and nation" and went on to describe the broad need for regulation of hazardous wastes.
The report concluded that "it is essential that the state be enabled to choose" hazardous waste sites "and to determine the best means of having them constructed, operated and maintained according to strict environmental standards."
"Every person," the GBC said, "is a generator of hazardous waste."
The safety of landfills had also become an issue in the state's hazardous-waste debate, and when Hughes' staff lobbyist, Judson Garrett, testified on the bill, he assured legislators that "this is not just a landfill bill." He went on to stress the language that had been inserted encouraging the development of alternatives such as incineration, reuse, recycling and "source reduction," which involves altering industries' processes to create less waste.
In the end, strong opposition to the bill never really developed, and it passed overwhelmingly in the first week of April.
Meanwhile, Boucher and Allied officials had been working on an arrangement to allow Allied to return to the state landfill at Hawkins Point, which was being expanded. By the time Hughes was signing the hazardous-waste bill, a contract to approve the arrangement was before the state Board of Public Works, which is composed of Hughes, state Comptroller Louis Goldstein, and Treasurer William S. James.
There was a slight delay. At a board meeting in early May, when Hughes was absent, approval of the contract was deferred, "with some unfavorable comments about Allied made by Goldstein," as a GBC staff memo later put it. The memo to Boucher noted, "we need to make sure it is brought up at the next Board of Public Works meeting" and "in the meantime you need to talk to the Governor and Secretary of Economic Development James Roberson and remind them now important it is that this work out in Allied's favor."
Boucher did just that, and at the next board meeting on May 21, the Allied contract was approved.
The staffer monitoring the Allied case noted that the contract would "offer Allied some breathing space" and would "give them about one year which would perhaps allow the Siting Board" -- then just created by the legislation -- "to serve as a source of a more permanent solution."
Now, it appears that is just what the siting board is doing. The Maryland Environmental Service, which was charged in the legislation with preparing a list of new hazardous-waste sites for the board's use, has awarded a $150,000 contract to a consulting firm to do the work, even though state agencies had worked on such lists in the past.
The contract belongs to the giant Booze Allen and Hamilton firm, whose "commercial" arm has frequently worked for large chemical and oil firms, including, a company official said, Allied Chemical.
The list is due to be ready by late spring, about the time the board will finish preparing its own regulations for approving new sites. Then, board members say, their first priority will be either to accept an application from a commercial-waste firm to open a new landfill site, or to order the state to open one that they approve of.
That process will take anywhere from six months to a year, meaning that the board's first site will likely open for operation just when Allied Chemical will need it. Meanwhile, the other kinds of hazardous-waste disposal sites promoted in the bill will have to wait until firms in Maryland actually need them.