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The Tribune Editorials: 3 SLO County supervisors want to kill regional waste agency. It’s nothing more than spite

So much for interagency cooperation.

On Tuesday, the conservative majority on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors moved ahead with a plan to break up a countywide waste management agency that’s been around for 30 years.

They’re considering putting the county Public Works Department in charge of waste management instead, which means the county would oversee recycling programs and garbage disposal — and be responsible for meeting increasingly complicated state and federal requirements.

The supervisors authorized a $32,000 cost-benefit analysis by Orlando-based MSW Consultants that will examine the pros and cons of pulling out of the Integrated Waste Management Authority, or IWMA.

It’s a bullying move born out of pure spite.

Supervisors John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton were stung by an IWMA board decision to pass a countywide ban on polystyrene products, including Styrofoam cups, clamshell food containers, ice chests and the like.

Now the three supervisors are making good on a threat to pull out of the IWMA, starting with spending taxpayer money on a feasibility study.

The two liberal supervisors, Dawn Ortiz Legg and Bruce Gibson, also voted in favor of the feasibility study, though for very different reasons.

Gibson said he wants the public to be fully aware of the consequences of breaking up the IWMA. He predicted the move will make it more expensive and less efficient to meet state and federal requirements for recycling and disposal. A preliminary estimate put the additional cost at as much as $1.5 million per year.

On top of that, this is a challenging time to make such a change. In January, new state legislation, SB-1383, takes effect that requires major reductions in methane emissions from organic waste.

Yet roughly 15 callers whose recorded comments were broadcast during Tuesday’s meeting asked the board to withdraw from the IWMA.

Many of the callers used the same talking points, complaining that “unelected bureacrats” were calling the shots.

That was misleading: The 13-member IWMA board is made up only of elected officials, including all five county supervisors, a member of each of the seven city councils and an elected member of a community services district board.

Interestingly, the ban on polystyrene — the very subject that led to this brouhaha in the first place — wasn’t mentioned by callers on Tuesday.

Conservatives on the board say this isn’t really about polystyrene but, rather, is a matter of principle.

“This IWMA has taken on legislating, and that has become the problem,” Supervisor Arnold said Tuesday.

Arnold and other conservatives have accused the IWMA board of overstepping its bounds by imposing the ban throughout the county. They demanded the board stick with implementing only state and federal mandates, which currently don’t include a ban on polystyrene products.

In the hope of keeping the IWMA intact, other board members agreed to support the “mandates only” policy in a formal vote.

But that didn’t satisfy conservative members.

They wanted to apply the policy retroactively, which meant rescinding the polystyrene ban that had already passed by a sizable majority vote. Their attempt to sink the ban failed.

Now they’re willing to blow up a cooperative effort, in an era when a regional approach is being promoted as the way for local governments to save money and improve efficiency.

One example: All seven cities and the county have agreed to join forces in funding and operating a new, countywide animal shelter, even though it took some convincing to get Paso Robles and Atascadero to agree.

The IWMA board did the right thing in banning polystyrene.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2018 that styrene — a building block of polystyrene — had been upgraded from “possibly” carcinogenic to humans to “probably” carcinogenic.

It also harms wildlife, litters our parks, beaches and roadsides and takes up precious space in our landfills.

It’s been outlawed by several nations, and while the California Legislature has not yet passed a ban, several cities have, including five of the seven cities in San Luis Obispo County. (Paso Robles and Atascadero are the exceptions.)

Conservatives on the Board of Supervisors were wrong to oppose a countywide ban — and they will only compound that mistake many times over if they force the county to withdraw from the IWMA.

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