Environment, Featured, Gold Dome, Peter Blake, Taxes

Blake: Freshen up bad legislation with a new coat of paint

Oblivious, as usual, to the lessons of history, the Colorado legislature has enacted a fee on household paint sales in order to subsidize the recycling or disposal of leftovers — even as it tries to deal with a similar tire recycling fiasco.

Senate Bill 29, now awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature, passed both chambers on party-line votes. It commands paint retailers to collect an estimated 75 cents a gallon starting no later than July 1, 2015. I say “estimated” because the law doesn’t specify the exact amount. That will be be determined by the Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission in the state health department.

The amount is supposed to cover the program’s expenses. In the seven states where the program has been enacted, according to testimony, the fees average 75 cents a gallon, 35 cents a quart and $1.60 for a 5-gallon container.

The law doesn’t require that the fee be broken out separately in the purchase price. Maybe they hope you won’t notice. At least tire purchasers are made aware they’re paying an extra $1.50 for each tire to allegedly finance its recycling.

All tires wear out eventually. But only 10 percent of the paint sold in Colorado isn’t used, according to sponsoring Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton. That amounts to 1.2 million gallons a year.

She said 80 percent of the household paint sold is latex which, by the way, is not considered a hazardous material when it dries out. It can go into landfills.

The various state programs are administered by something called PaintCare Inc., a nonprofit established by the American Coatings Association, the paint manufacturers’ Washington-based trade group.

ACA knows public relations. It calls this a “paint stewardship” program and Alison Keane, its vice president for governmental affairs, referred to what’s left over in the can as “legacy paint.” Think of old latex as your grandmother’s diamond brooch!

The bill got a thumbs-up from counties and municipalities, who have been taking in unused paint during their periodic hazardous-waste roundups. Now they no longer have to. Unused paint can soon be returned instead to the retailer who sold it to you. No, that doesn’t entitle you to a refund of the fee.

Latex paint can be recycled and resold, although the bizarre economics of that nascent industry appear to be upside down.

Testifying on behalf of the bill in both the Senate and House committees was Kevin Callahan, founder of GreenSheen Ecofriendly Paints of Englewood. He said he takes usable leftover latex, recycles it and distributes it to 30 retailers for sale. He charges the retailers $9 to $12 a gallon and they can set their own price, usually around $15. That’s well under the average gallon price of $42 for new paint. GreenSheen is an ordinary for-profit business.

“We can’t get enough paint to feed the market we created,” he testified. “I don’t have enough.”

“The bill would create funding for a company like mine and other companies getting into the business,” Callahan said.

He was asked if he paid for the paint people brought him. The answer: No. In fact, he charges them to take it — about $3 per gallon if it’s usable.

Republicans weren’t surprised he couldn’t get enough paint with that practice. “Ordinarily it works the other way around,” explained Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, mildly. Manufacturers pay suppliers for their raw materials rather than charging for them. That ensures a more reliable supply.

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, was blunter. “You want to require the state to subsidize the collection of the raw materials that you turn around and sell?” He liked the idea of recycling paint, but the bill “causes me heartburn.”

Three Painted Ladies Inc. of Loveland, a smaller paint recycling firm, comes closer to a proper business model. It doesn’t pay customers who bring in usable old paint, but principal Diane Gregg said at least her firm doesn’t charge them.

Swalm noted that no ordinary paint consumers had testified on the bill, one way or the other. “The insiders are all fired up,” he said, “but the people paying the bill for it are out trying to make a living.”

That is the rule, not the exception at the statehouse. Consumers can’t afford a lobbyist and are thus left at the mercy of wealthy business and environmental interests.

The paint program is all too reminiscent of the tire recycling dodge, which the legislature tried to overhaul this year. Colorado has become the nation’s largest tire dump, thanks in part to the subsidies paid to companies that took old tires — often from out of state — but piled them up instead of reprocessing them. The subsidies came from the $1.50 disposal fee on new tires sold in this state.

House Bill 1352, awaiting the governor’s certain signature, phases out the program and forces tire landfills to get rid of more tires than they take in. It will also cut the fee paid by tire buyers to 55 cents — but not until 2018.

It looks as though the subsidized paint recycling program could be similarly exploited.

But at least lawmakers will have started another cash fund that they can loot with impunity when the economy lapses and revenues decline. They did it a few years ago and the Supreme Court said it was legal.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at pblake0705@comcast.net You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.

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