2019 Legislative Session Summary

The 2019 Iowa Legislative Session began with the swearing-in of 31 new representatives and senators elected in November 2018. Republicans retained control of the House, with a slightly narrower majority of 54-46. The GOP widened its majority in the Senate to 32-18. And after her Election Day win, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds began her first full term. With this “trifecta,” Republicans passed 170 bills and resolutions.

Numerous issues relevant to the Iowa Recycling Association were addressed this legislative session:

Signed into law:

GASIFICATION AND PYROLYSIS:

Senate File 534 (previously Senate Study Bill 1194)

This legislation relates to waste conversion technologies, specifically the use of gasification and pyrolysis facilities for the conversion of certain recoverable waste materials into energy resources.

What are waste conversion technologies operations?

Iowa Code Section 455.B301 defines “waste conversion technologies” as “thermal, chemical, mechanical and biological processes capable of converting waste from which recyclable materials have been substantially diverted or removed into useful products and chemicals, green fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel and clean, renewable energy.” Waste conversion technologies include but are not limited to anaerobic digestion, plasma gasification and pyrolysis.

Iowa Code Section 455D.15A previously required a facility utilizing waste conversion technologies to obtain a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Facilities paid the DNR an annual fee for the permit, which funded administration of the program.

What is gasification?

Gasification is a process in which waste is heated in an oxygen-starved environment to produce a gas referred to as “syngas.” That syngas, in turn, is then used as a fuel to produce electricity, or as a preliminary stage for refining biofuels.

What is pyrolysis?

Pyrolysis is a similar process which applies heat in an oxygen-starved environment to produce both burnt char and gas. Both can then be used to produce electricity or other fuels.

Because pyrolysis produces char, it’s not a zero-waste alternative like other thermal technologies.

What does the bill do?

The measure excludes gasification and pyrolysis plants from the definitions of “sanitary facilities” or “waste conversion facilities.”  It also removes post-use polymers and recoverable feedstocks from the definition of “solid waste.”

The legislation defines post-use polymers as plastic byproducts from any industrial, commercial, agricultural or domestic activity. The polymer must be used (or intended) for manufacturing crude oil, fuels, feedstocks, blendstocks, raw materials or other intermediate products or final products using pyrolysis or gasification.

“Recoverable feedstock” is materials processed specifically for use in a gasification facility. That includes post-use polymers and some materials containing post-use polymers.

Lastly, the bill repeals the DNR permit requirement for facilities utilizing waste conversion technologies as outlined in Iowa Code Section 455D.15A.

What is the IRA’s position on SF 534?

The Iowa Recycling Association opposes SF 534 because it exempts a problematic industry from necessary state regulation.  Gasification and pyrolysis processes have been around for decades, and have proven to be unreliable and unsustainable. When these plants fail, local governments are often stuck paying the tab on costly cleanup. Permitting is the best way to provide financial assurance and protect local governments and taxpayers from expensive cleanups should the technologies fail. Focusing on waste reduction and advancing plastic recycling practices are the responsible course of action until research definitively determines the economic and environmental impacts of gasification and pyrolysis.

Introduced but failed to advance through either Chamber:

SINGLE-USE PLASTIC:

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 4

Senator Liz Mathis (D-Hiawatha) introduced SCR 4 requesting an interim study committee be established to identify creative, environmentally-friendly and sustainable ways to limit single-use plastics. The measure was referred to the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee.  A subcommittee was assigned but never met.

BOTTLE BILL:

Numerous bills pertaining to Iowa’s container deposit law were introduced during the 2019 session. These proposals looked to modernize the Bottle Bill by including non-carbonated beverages, increasing the handling fee, removing return-to-retail or establishing drop-off redemption locations. While lawmakers did not pass any such legislation, they increased activity and awareness on the issue, and shared significant conversations with stakeholders.

Senate File 520 (previously Senate File 59)

Senator Mark Segebart (R-Vail) introduced SF 59 in the chamber’s Natural Resources and Environment Committee. His bill would have doubled the handling fee paid by distributors from one cent to two cents. Additionally, it would have removed retailers from the container deposit system, requiring consumers to return cans to redemption centers to receive their refunds. SF 59 was ultimately amended and passed out of Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee as SF 520.

As amended, SF 520 would have maintained the handling fee increase paid by distributors from one cent to two cents, effective upon enactment. However, instead of removing retailers from the container deposit system, SF 520 would have allowed them to opt-in by notifying the DNR that they wanted to “participate.” That change would have been effective July 1, 2020.  At a subcommittee meeting Senate Ways & Means Chair Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) offered an amendment which made SF 520 consistent with Senate Study Bill 1225 (see below).

Senate Study Bill 1125

Under this measure, a retailer could have chosen to be a “participating dealer” and continued to redeem cans and bottles. Alternatively, they could have refused to redeem containers if a redemption center or “dealer agent” was located within 10 miles of their store. The bill would have required such a retailer to provide notice to the DNR that they would no longer participate in the system. The legislation would have further authorized some of the state’s beer distributors to launch their proprietary “Droppett” program as “dealer agents.”  Instead of going to a store or redemption center, a customer could have opened an online account and left cans and bottles at a Droppett location. Machinery would sort and scan containers, and deposit money in the customer’s account at a later date (within a “reasonable time”). In contrast, redemption centers and retailers that chose to keep redeeming containers would continue to immediately pay back deposits.

The second major provision of Feenstra’s bill would have increased the handling fee paid to redemption centers, but shifted some of that burden to retailers. Right now, beer and soda distributors pay redemption centers one cent for each container they process. SSB 1225 would have doubled the fee to two cents per container. However retailers – not distributors – would have paid the extra penny. The bill would have also allowed redemption centers to simply provide notice to the DNR that they were opening for business.  Currently, facilities must be licensed by the agency.

House File 181

This measure, introduced by Rep. Andy McKean (at the time, R-Anamosa) would have expanded the five-cent deposit to many non-carbonated beverages, including bottled water and sports drinks. The proposal would have also raised the handling fee paid to redemption centers to two cents. Although the bill unanimously passed subcommittee, it ultimately died, failing to survive the first “funnel” deadline.

On Wednesday, April 24 McKean announced his intention to leave the GOP and register as a Democrat.  He was the longest-serving Republican at the statehouse, first joining the House in 1979, the year after then-Governor Bob Ray signed the bottle bill into law. Since then, McKean has advocated for preserving, and then updating the deposit system.

House Study Bill 232

House Environmental Protection Chair Dean Fisher (R-Montour) introduced HSB 232. His proposal would have doubled the handling fee paid by distributors to redemption centers from one cent to two cents.  The measure was assigned a subcommittee, but never had a hearing.

House File 412

HF 412 would have largely deregulated the deposit system by allowing retailers to refuse to accept beverage containers for redemption.   Currently, a grocery store or other retailer can opt-out of accepting cans and bottles by designating a DNR-certified redemption center.  Under this bill, stores could have simply provided notice to the DNR that they would no longer redeem containers.  Rep. Brian Lohse (R-Bondurant) introduced HF 412. The proposal was originally referred to the House Natural Resources Committee. It was subsequently moved to the Environmental Protection Committee, where it stalled.

House File 198

Mary Gaskill (D-Ottumwa) introduced HF 198, which was referred to the House Environmental Protection Committee. The legislation would have expanded the five-cent deposit to non-carbonated beverages including water, coffee and teas.  It would have excluded jars, cartons, foil pouches and drink boxes.  The measure failed to pass the first legislative funnel, having never received a subcommittee hearing.

House File 199

Rep. Gaskill also introduced HF 199. It too was referred to the House Environmental Protection Committee. The legislation would have doubled the handling fee in the same manner as in HSB 232.  Like HF 198, this measure failed to clear the first legislative funnel, having never received a subcommittee hearing.