Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Entrepreneurship in Government: Bloomberg's Lack of Political Imagination

In previous posts on the entire question of the impact of the dreaded "special interests" we have emphasized the fact that being "above politics," something that the Citizens Union praises the mayor for in giving him the organization's "preferred" rating, doesn't automatically translate into astute policy making. The ability of the mayor to rise above the parochial interplay of interests doesn't imbue him with any special insights into what constitutes the public good.

No area of policy better exemplifies this than solid waste management. For the better part of four years Bloomberg has struggled to devise a solid waste management plan that tackles the knotty issues of export costs, recycling, transfer station siting and waste reduction. In this panoply of issues the mayor has only really addressed one: transfer station siting. And one could argue here that it is precisely in addressing this issue that the mayor exhibited parochial political instincts (He knocked out potential mayoral rival Gifford Miller on this front).

As far as recycling and waste reduction are concerned, however, the mayor's SWMP is totally lame. In fact when the recycling initiative was described in the report as "goundbreaking" we pointed out that this was only true if the mayor was going to be digging with a plastic spoon. There is simply nothing in the SWMP that even remotely gives any hope for meaningful waste reduction.

Waste Disposers

Which brings us to the issue of commercial waste disposers which has been languishing at the Council two years after Intro 220 was introduced, partly because of the opposition of the DEP. Disposers are the one initiative that holds promise for not only reducing waste but, concomitantly, increasing recycling as well.

In addition, the use of disposers would also go a long way towards improving the city's public health, since the quick and efficient removal of food waste will help reduce rodent and insect infestation. Remember that the mayor is fond of saying that when it comes to health money should be secondary. Not only that, disposers are a low impact and reasonably priced technology that the technocratic Bloomberg should have jumped on.

Instead the Bloomberg Administration has stalled while promoting a SWMP whose price tag, already astronomical, will only escalate as export costs go through the roof. At the same time, the mayor's pledge to reduce the 500,000 garbage export truck trips a year will unavoidably flounder as the city embarks on this export-dependent disposal methodology.

Hypocrisy at Full Blast

What's ironic in all this policy myopia is the hypocrisy of the administration's stance on disposers. You see, the city actually agrees with our position. We have just finished discussions with the good folks at NYCHA where we have learned that the housing agency has just finished installing 1200 disposers at the New Hope project in Bushwick. Do you know who paid for the units and their installation? The NYC Department of Health.

Not only that, the agency is letting its new kitchen installation contracts and plans to continue installing disposers until 18,000 units of public housing are equipped. No worry of sewer overflows or nitrogen loading here. And the people in the agency who are in charge of the Pilot Program report that garbage disposal has been reduced and the environment has been improved!

We are hopeful that the Council will be introducing its own pilot for commercial disposers next week. Just click on our grinders section for a detailed description of their solid waste reduction and public health benefits. Oh, and one more thing. Emily Lloyd, the new DEP commissioner was probably the biggest proponent of disposers when she served as Sanitation Commissioner in the early nineties. We look forward to an interesting discussion on all this after the pilot is introduced.


It was Rudy Guiliani who pushed the original pilot on residential disposers over the objections of the DEP. The report pursuant to that pilot is still posted on the DEP website. It demonstrated conclusively that the installation of 25,000 residential units a year! for the next thirty years would have a de minimis impact on the city's waste water treatment infrastructure (while having a salutary impact on municipal garbage disposal).