FRISCO UPDATE: Frisco to receive $1.5 million from Texas battery fund to apply to cleanup of contaminated land surrounding Exide lead smelter
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Frisco to tap state fund for its share of Exide cleanup
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH
Published: 08 July 2013 10:33 PM
Updated: 09 July 2013 07:22 AM
After 20 years of trying, the city of Frisco will receive funds from a statewide battery fee to pay for work related to its closed battery plant.
Legislation approved during the regular session will allocate $1.5 million to cover Frisco’s expected share of the costs to clean up contamination on property it will buy from Exide Technologies.
The timing was right, said state Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, who helped push the measure through. Fallon was elected to the state House last year. He had previously served on the Frisco City Council. And he knew a lot of the history about Exide’s battery recycling plant and secondary lead smelter that closed in November.
“It was a just cause,” he said. “The city shouldn’t be on the hook for this.”
Since 1991, Texas has assessed a fee of $2 to $3 for every car battery sold in the state. The fee was initially touted as a way to help dispose of those lead-acid batteries. But the money gets deposited into a fund used for hazardous waste cleanup through the state’s Superfund program.
Since the fee was implemented, the state has collected an average $14 million to $15 million a year. Between 2000 and 2013, revenue from the mandated battery fee has totaled more than $207 million.
In 1993 and 1995, Frisco worked with legislators to propose bills to allow some of that revenue to be used to make battery recycling cleaner. The bills drew strong opposition from the chemical industry, which feared money diverted to Frisco would mean more money that the industry would have to pay for cleanups. The bills died in both legislative sessions.
More than a decade later, Frisco officials worked with consultants and lobbyists behind the scenes to get support. In 2009, then-state Rep. Ken Paxton, a McKinney Republican who is now a state senator, successfully passed a bill that would allow up to 10 percent of the battery fee revenue to be used in battery recycling facilities.
By then, Frisco was home to the only battery recycling plant in Texas.
Frisco had hoped to use the money to help fund new technology at Exide’s plant to reduce emissions. The city also considered funding a health risk study related to lead emissions, which by that time exceeded the new federal air-quality standard that went into effect in 2008.
But while the Paxton legislation gave the legal authority to use the money for battery recycling, it made no appropriation of the money. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has access only to funds that are specifically appropriated, officials there said.
Frisco’s efforts to get its hands on the money proved unsuccessful.
In June 2012, Fallon cast one of his last votes as a City Council member. He and other council members unanimously approved an agreement between Exide and the city that called for closure of the plant. As part of that deal, the city agreed to pay $45 million to buy about 170 acres of buffer land owned by Exide that surrounded its plant.
The contract also called for the city to pay up to $1.5 million to clean up that buffer land for redevelopment. The main concerns are the unsafe levels of lead and cadmium in the soil. Any cleanup costs exceeding that amount would be split equally by Frisco and Exide.
That’s where Fallon’s measure comes in, attached as a rider to House Bill 7, which was a supplement to the state budget.
With passage of that bill, along with the appropriations act, TCEQ said it now has both statutory and appropriation authority to use $1.5 million in battery fee money on the cleanup in Frisco.
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso described the efforts as a long process. “We as a city pushed hard, and the money’s finally allocated now,” he said.
Fallon said the groundwork laid by Frisco over the years made a difference.
In addition, Frisco had not one, but two lawmakers lobbying about the measure’s importance this time around. Fallon and state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, both took office in January. There had never been a representative from Frisco in the state House until this year.
Fallon said a compelling argument about truth in budgeting also went a long way toward getting the measure approved. “It’s taking money from the battery recycling fee pot for matters dealing with battery recycling.”