Bill in Kentucky General Assembly gives 8-year extension to fund - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bill in Kentucky General Assembly gives 8-year extension to fund for environmental emergencies

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An account used by Kentucky regulators to clean up abandoned and polluted sites would be funded until 2024 under a bill filed in the General Assembly.

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, introduced Senate Bill 80 last Friday. The measure requires that companies that produce hazardous waste pay assessments to the Energy and Environment Cabinet, which in turn uses the money to respond to environmental emergencies, such as spills and fires, and restore contaminated land with no “responsible party.”

By law, state legislators must re-authorize the hazardous waste management fund by June 30, 2016.

Harris, a member of the Senate's Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said he filed the bill during this year's session “to get it done early.” He described the account as a “necessary fund” that has the support of industry and lawmakers in the Senate.

Since it was established in 1980, the fund has spent roughly $70 million on more than 550 contaminated sites. The fund is the only source of money in Kentucky for cleaning up pollution on abandoned property—such as the old Louisville Environmental Services property in southwest Jefferson County, where soil samples have revealed potentially harmful chemicals, and at least one carcinogen was found in the Ohio River in excess of safe drinking water levels.

But the Kentucky Division of Waste Management, which oversees the fund for the Cabinet, warned lawmakers in a report last summer that the “available funding on an annual basis will not be sufficient to meet the baseline needs for the program.”

Tim Hubbard, the division's assistant director, told WDRB News last month that additional funding would help, but his agency is evaluating ways to work more efficiently.

“The Division of Waste Management supports Sen. Harris' bill to extend the hazardous waste assessment fee for another eight years and are hopeful that it will be approved and passed during this session,” Hubbard said in an interview Wednesday.

Unlike the last re-authorization of the fund in 2008 – also sponsored by Harris -- the bill introduced this session doesn't change the fees assessed to industries.

The Kentucky Association of Manufacturers supports extending the fund, in part because the Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center at the University of Louisville receives 20 percent of the fund's receipts, said Greg Higdon, the association's president and CEO. That money is used for a variety of programs aimed at helping businesses lower their operating costs.

“We don't visualize that it's going away, so we're dealing with the current assessment realistically,” Higdon said.

SB 80 hasn't been assigned yet to a committee. The General Assembly begins the second half of its 30-day session on Feb. 3.

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