The Connecticut State Capitol. Sean Pavone Photography

Legislation prompted by the illegal dumping of tires in Connecticut passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday, despite concerns the bill would do too little to address a problem endemic to both cities and little-traveled rural lanes.

House Bill 6486 would require manufacturers of tires sold in Connecticut to join or create a state-supervised industry stewardship program responsible for collecting and recycling used or discarded tires.

It also would require the Department of Transportation to more widely test the utilization of tire-derived asphalt on state highways, an effort to broaden the limited market for recycled tires, other than burning them as fuel.

Currently, consumers pay a $5 fee to discard tires when purchasing replacements. About 75% of the 3.1 million tires annually discarded in Connecticut are shipped to a plant in Maine, where they are burned to generate electricity.

The bill passed on a 101-43 vote, with every Democrat and nine Republicans in support. It now goes to the Senate.

Opponents said the program would be largely duplicative of current industry efforts that now collect most discarded tires, but supporters say the lack of oversight allows too many tires to end up in illegal dumps.

“It’s accountability, that’s what you’re getting” in the bill, said Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, who helped initiate the current program. “Right now, tires continue to leak out of the system.”

The bill would require the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to audit the stewardship program, at a minimum of least once every three years and a maximum of every year.

The program would be the latest in a series of extended producer responsibility, or EPR, efforts. The state already has EPR programs for propane tanks, paints and mattresses, all products that cannot be easily recycled or safely thrown away.

“My inclination is that an EPR program is a big government solution to a problem that the private sector should be dealing with. Is it dealing with it? I don’t know,” said Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin. 

As an alternative, House Republican leaders offered an amendment that would have created a licensing program for tire haulers, including a requirement for documentation showing where and how they were disposed. It failed on a party-line vote.

Dubitsky said the industry claims 95% of the tires sold in Connecticut are recycled, admittedly mostly as fuel, but that still leaves tens of thousands that go unaccounted.

He praised the provision that nudged the DOT to widen its test of rubberized asphalt from secondary to primary roads, saying that the best solution for the disposal of used tires would be creating a market for their reuse.

Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, co-chair of the Environment Committee, said the product has proved to be reliable.

“The use of tire-derived asphalt is common in the rest of our country, especially out west,” Gresko said. “It provides a secondary market for the shredded tires. As far as the road being paved, it is a quieter ride. It is easier on your now-newer tires.”

Rep. Mike Demicco, D-Farmington, a member of the Environment Committee, challenged Gresko to explain why the bill was amended on the floor to strike a provision that would have prohibited the shipment of shredded tires from Connecticut to Maine for incineration. 

“It was relayed to me that prohibiting the shipping of these shredded discarded tires from Connecticut to Maine to be burned would violate the interstate Commerce Clause,” Gresko said.

Some proponents of the bill acknowledged its limits, calling it a step forward, not a solution to illegal dumping. At least for now, Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, said he would settle for the measure.

“Just yesterday, in a one-quarter block, we took 50 tires off the street,” Reyes said.  “People know and will find the isolated places.”

Mushinsky, a long-time environmentalist who was elected to the House 43 years ago, complained that the tires she hauls out of rivers in periodic cleanups are numerous and heavy, often clogged with mud.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.