MONTGOMERY (AP) — A bill that has passed the Alabama House and is pending in the Senate poses an old dilemma for lawmakers — jobs vs. the environment.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Linden, would drastically lower taxes for business using the hazardous waste disposal facility at Emelle in Sumter County near the Alabama-Mississippi line.
The fees for disposing waste were raised in the early 1990s to help spur activity in the economically depressed county in Alabama's Black Belt. McCampbell said some legislators at the time said they hoped the increased fees would help fund a pay raise for teachers.
But McCampbell said the higher taxes caused businesses across the nation to look for other places to dump their waste. He said that caused employment at the plant to be cut in half. He said he hopes lowering the fees will cause many businesses to again dispose of waste at Emelle and increase the number of jobs at the facility.
McCampbell said Emelle is no longer the largest employer in his district, with 57 employees compared with 485 at its peak more than 20 years ago.
Plant officials say Emelle is getting close to the minimum number of employees needed even if waste is no longer being accepted.
"People need to guard it and protect it," McCampbell said of the facility.
But environmentalists say Alabama was once known as America's dumping ground and that the designation would return if the bill passes and is signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, voted against the bill, which passed the House 84-8.
"I don't want any more hazardous waste in Alabama," Todd said.
She said she didn't know whether lowering the tax would create more jobs in Sumter County, but added, "I don't want jobs that create more hazardous waste."
Adam Snyder, executive director of Conservation Alabama, agreed that this type of legislation is not the way to bring more jobs to Alabama.
"Who would want more toxic waste in Alabama? Apparently the House does," he said. "Hopefully the Senate will protect the people and places of Alabama by tuning down the ill-conceived bill."
The Emelle facility is owned by Chemical Waste Management. The manager of Chemical Waste Management-Emelle, Mike Davis, said the idea for the bill came about when community and business leaders in the county came together to try to figure out how to revive the economy both in the county and in west Alabama.
He said the leaders determined that the tax was too high, one of the highest waste disposal taxes in the country.
Davis said the plant "has an excellent track record" and is prepared to handle extra waste.
"We're not asking to do anything we haven't done before," Davis said. He added that the geological configuration the Emelle facility stands on is perfect for waste disposal.
Sam Addy, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, said his office recently completed a study looking at what effect lowering Emelle's taxes would have on west Alabama.
"This is something that should make us more competitive," he said. "The geology gives us an advantage that can't be exploited under the current tax structure."
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