Here We Go Again

When legislation hampering solid waste imports from Canada passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year but died in the Senate, Canadians may have thought the matter settled. It wasn't. On Jan. 17, shortly after the inception of the 110th Congress, Michigan Congressmen John D. Dingell, a Democrat, and Mike Rogers, a Republican, introduced the International Solid Waste Importation and Management Act, which is identical to the House resolution of the same name that passed that body last year as part of the fiscal year 2007 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill.

That legislation expired after it failed to reach the Senate floor before the 109th Congress adjourned. However, the threat of its passage enabled U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, also of Michigan, to broker an agreement with Ontario that will phase out “municipally managed” solid waste shipments from the province into the state by 2010.

“They have a lot at stake in fulfilling that [agreement], and they will,” says National Solid Wastes Management Association President and CEO Bruce Parker, whose organization opposes the reintroduced legislation. “They've already bought a new landfill up there, and they're recycling more. And yet this is going to happen in the face of that.”

In January, the Ontario Ministry of Environment approved plans to expand a landfill in the Southwest Ontario township of Warwick. This follows Toronto's recent purchase of the Green Lane landfill, the first landfill to be owned and operated by the city, to help the city comply with the agreement. But Levin and Stabenow's compromise with Ontario is itself controversial because, while it curtails 2.8 million tons of residential waste, it does not address the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) waste that comprises more than half of the 4 million metric tons of Canadian trash entering Michigan each year.

“For far too long Canada has been transporting its waste to Michigan, essentially using Michigan as its dumping ground,” said Dingell on reintroducing the legislation. “Over the years, the number of Canadian trash shipments to Michigan has risen to more than 410 trucks per day.”

As with last year's legislation, the bill proposed by Dingell and Rogers would require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “implement and enforce the 1986 Agreement Concerning the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste between the United States and Canada,” which would require Canada to notify the United States prior to shipping waste across the border. The EPA would then “give considerable deference to the desire of the state that will receive the waste as to whether to allow the shipment or not.”

In the absence of definitive action by the EPA, the bill would empower states to restrict the flow of waste on their own. Such laws and regulations could stay in place even after EPA regulations are finalized.

“[This legislation] actually allows states to prohibit wastes until EPA comes up with whatever protocol they're going to come up with to deal with the international shipments,” says Solid Waste Association of North America CEO John Skinner. “We would be opposed to that.”

“Waste is an article of commerce and should move freely as an article of commerce across jurisdictional boundaries irrespective of the place of origin,” asserts Skinner. “The way to manage waste is not to put up barriers prohibiting the waste coming into [a] state.”

Additionally, both Skinner and Parker say they fear that the bill, if signed into law, would violate international treaties, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). They also suggest that it will unjustly punish Canadian citizens by raising prices and hurt U.S. waste handlers like Republic and Waste Management, who currently accept Canadian waste.