College Student Forms Association For Auto Recyclers
UVM sophomore Matt Brown created an association for Vermont auto recyclers to voice concerns about new state regulations.
PHOTO: DAVE ABRAMS
For the first time, auto recyclers in Vermont are in serious need of representation. Unexpectedly, they've turned to a college student to lead the way.
University of Vermont (UVM) sophomore Matt Brown, 19, who works part time at Brown's Auto Salvage in Bomoseen, Vt., recently organized the Vermont Auto Recyclers Association (VARA) to ensure auto recyclers' concerns are voiced before new regulations are drawn up next spring.
Matt founded VARA (VermontARA.com) in response to Act 93, a temporary set of rules set up in an effort to consolidate salvage regulation, which took effect in July 2010. Permanent state regulations are due to be finalized in March 2011.
Until Act 93 passed, Matt said Vermont auto recyclers followed fairly loose regulations, so now tighter guidelines are necessary. But, he's also skeptical about how some of the drafted proposals will affect auto recyclers.
For years, Vermont's auto recycling industry was regulated by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which focused on motor vehicle tracking and not necessarily the environment. In January 2010, the state passed its regulation responsibility to the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR); its primary goals include environmental conservation.
The switch is due in large part to the state's desire to crack down on unlicensed facilities that don't comply with laws - for example, crushing vehicles without draining fluids first - that help to protect the environment.
Mark Brown, owner of Brown's Auto Salvage (BrownsAutoSalvage.com) and Matt's dad, said the shift in regulation would be beneficial for everyone.
"For years people didn't mind the fact there were more unlicensed yards than licensed," he said. "But as the area became more developed, the environmental issues came to the forefront. We want the [yards] who can meet the standards, to be licensed; and if they can't [meet the standards], they need to be closed."
There are 75 licensed auto-recycling facilities in Vermont. Based on information from several sources, the ANR believes an additional 200 - 300 similar businesses are operating illegally.
Matt said those unlicensed facilities should first be educated on how to run an automotive recycling business in accordance with Vermont state guidelines, which is something VARA can help them do.
"Our primary goal is to bring the illegal yards into compliance, and help our state," he added.
In the process of targeting illegal facilities, Matt is concerned some unrealistic guidelines will be forced upon auto recyclers already striving to run business according to regulation.
"Some things are put into legislation that sound good, but make it impossible to do business," Matt explained.
One example Matt noted was a proposal to require business owners to weigh all scrap, received and sold, which would require them to purchase scales.
"For a yard dealing primarily in car parts, it seems pointless," he said. "It's an unnecessary cost to a business like that."
Mark said weighing scrap may not be necessary for all auto recyclers, and he hopes state regulators consider the differences between auto recycling facilities and landfills when finalizing regulations.
"The idea of reporting tonnage may have come from the legislators' cutting and pasting from landfill regulations," Mark explained. "Our industry doesn't function like that. A lot of the [current] regulations were pulled out of thin air."
How quickly a vehicle needs to be drained of its fluids after arriving at a facility is another issue frequently debated.
The current Act 93 regulation states, "motor vehicles shall be drained of all fluids prior to crushing and within 365 days of receipt by the salvage yard, except that a vehicle with visible signs of leaking fluids shall be drained immediately."
"A realistic timetable for draining vehicles needs to be set," said Mark. "The effective handling of the fluids is the important part. They need to be drained and processed correctly."
Another new regulation for Vermont auto recyclers requires a stormwater-runoff map. Matt supplied Brown's Auto Salvage with one, and according to Mark, helped other area auto recyclers do the same.
"They were worried they wouldn't meet compliance because of that," Mark added. "But, Matt helped them with it, which also saved them money. He's made himself knowledgeable about what's happening."
Before VARA was created, auto recyclers didn't have a representative association that would allow them to weigh in on these and similar proposals.
Mark, who is one of 13 initial VARA members, said previous attempts by Vermont auto recyclers to create an association have failed because there hasn't been a serious need.
"About 10 years ago, we had an attempt that wasn't well received," he said. "This time we're facing a myriad of new regulations."
VARA Is Born
When Matt became interested in putting the association together last spring, his father Mark gave him a list of Vermont auto recyclers. Matt e-mailed them and stated his concerns and goals regarding Act 93.
"I had no problem getting support," he said. "Overall, it has received tremendous response."
VARA became an official, tax-exempt association in May 2010. Matt handled the legal and structural procedures himself.
"I just read a lot about non-profit [organizations] and how to get started," he said. "At first it seems really daunting. I'm pleasantly surprised about how upfront the process is. The government seems inaccessible, but if you follow all the steps that people recommend to you, you can really get a lot done."
To cover legal costs, every member donated anywhere from $200 - $500 on a sliding scale, dependent upon how much money each business made.
After talking to members of the group, Matt said he modeled VARA closely after the Auto & Truck Recyclers Association of New Hampshire (ATRANH.com).
Mark noted ARA has supported the association by telling them what regulations have worked well with other states.
VARA meetings have been held via conference call so far, but Matt hopes to meet face-to-face with members in the near future.
"I'm hoping around spring, about the time the new regulations are set, we can do that," he continued.
Balancing his responsibilities for VARA while going to school full time is a challenge the economics major has worked out.
"I formed my [class] schedule in a way that would work out for the association," explained Matt. "My mornings are pretty free."
He added that attending UVM (UVM.edu) is a benefit for him and VARA.
"I have all the resources I can get at school," he said. "Plus, I'm young, idealistic and not too cynical about the government yet."
Mark isn't worried about his son's ability to handle both responsibilities, and is confident Matt's presence will be a benefit for Vermont's auto recyclers.
"I came into the business because of my automotive knowledge," Mark said. "Matt is a business person. He can sit down and do research for four hours and have an outline of where we need to go."
There will be much debate between VARA members and state regulators until the final draft is drawn up this spring, but Mark is optimistic.
"We've had lax regulations [in the past]," he said. "Now, it's a clean slate. We're starting new."