To the editors:

In his September 28 Reader cover story, Harold Henderson argues that Illinois environmentalists made a mistake by wasting their chance to “cut a deal” on statewide garbage and recycling legislation. Unfortunately, Mr. Henderson scurried past more than a few key facts to make a desired editorial point.

To begin, there was really no deal offered at all:

(a) Business groups refused to support any funding mechanism to increase recycling programs and market development. Everyone agreed that without additional dollars to help local governments expand their recycling programs and find new end-users for the materials collected, the legislative package was little more than bankrupt platitudes.

(b) The City of Chicago would not agree to any meaningful recycling goals, nor would many of the business groups. Under their approach, Illinois would have made less than a 2% reduction in the waste stream each year.

(c) The City of Chicago would not agree to the imposition of penalties if recycling goals were not met, in effect gutting the entire bill. What force do recycling goals have if there is no sanction for failing to reach them? What real world impact can they have?

(d) Business groups categorically refused to accept any recycled content requirements for packaging, whether it was plastic, aluminum or glass bottles, cans, containers or wrappings.

Next, it’s important to emphasize that every major environmental and grassroots community group working on solid waste issues in Illinois (with the exception of one) believed that the “deal” described in the Reader article was unacceptable. Virtually everyone agrees that the next five years are critical; decisions will soon be made on whether Illinois becomes serious about source reduction and recycling, or just builds more landfills and incinerators. Once new waste disposal facilities are built, they will need a substantial waste stream in order to operate profitably; so they will undermine intensive, far-reaching recycling and prevention efforts.

The most obvious analogy we can provide is to point to Commonwealth Edison’s enormous excess nuclear generating capacity and the consequent opposition to the development and implementation of aggressive energy efficiency and conservation programs–despite the fact that such programs would be cheaper to the consumer and more environmentally benign.

Finally, Mr. Henderson unfairly castigates public interest lawyer Howard Learner in his article for being unwilling to agree to the non-deal. Mr. Learner is an attorney who was representing environmental group clients, not just himself. If Mr. Learner’s clients believe that a proposed deal is unacceptable, then Learner is in no position to accept it. It was Mr. Learner’s clients who decided that he should not participate in any further negotiations that would ultimately lead to a weakening of local control over landfill and incinerator siting. Instead, they believe it is time for the state legislature to seriously address the root cause of our garbage problem, too much waste, as opposed to the symptom, dwindling disposal capacity.

Kevin Greene

Research Director

Citizens for a Better Environment

S. Dearborn