WASHINGTON - The congressional committees responsible annually for distributing hundreds of billions of dollars to federal agencies and programs ordinarily don't get very interested in $500,000-a-year studies. But the House and Senate Appropriations committees have paid unusual attention to a three-year analysis meant to help local governments make informed solid-waste disposal decisions.
As a result, the project, overseen jointly by the Environ-mental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, is threatened with extinction only a year after its inception.
The EPA and DOE are designing a life-cycle inventory to provide local governments with a model to analyze the costs and benefits - in terms of money, energy use and environmental impact - of various disposal, recycling and source-reduction methods. The two agencies intend to produce a database to help in assessing waste-management options.
Even the project's supporters say making such a document useful is a tall order. But they note the EPA and DOE have gone to great lengths to consult with the affected groups.
Detractors say the project is a waste of money at best. At worst, it could result in skewed interpretations that favor certain disposal methods and materials over others, they said. Legislators, apparently, have been listening.
The Senate has passed an appropriations bill that eliminates the Energy Department's role in the study, and the House Appropriations Committee recommended temporarily halting the program.
The only panel standing in the way of the study's demise is the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the EPA. If the panel hears no opposition to the study, its appropriations are not likely to address the life-cycle research at all, according to a panel aide.
That could allow the EPA to continue funding the study strictly from its own budget.
Susan Thorneloe, who has managed the project for the EPA, said some manufacturing groups believe the effort is aimed at comparing different packaging materials.
The study actually is confined to analyzing waste-management options, she said.
EPA initially is reviewing aluminum, old newspaper and old corrugated containers because significant data about them already exist.
Information for many other materials also will be compiled before the study is completed.
The project's boosters include the National Recycling Coalition, which hopes it will provide better information on recycling's economic and environmental benefits compared with other solid-waste management options, according to Edgar Miller, the NRC's director of policy and programs.