D.C. Regs Burden Transfer Stations

If the District of Columbia government has its way, local private waste transfer stations will disappear.

Last June, city public works officials tried to shut down the Northeast Distri-bution Center (NDC) by citing the facility for alleged illegal dumping, impounding several collection vehicles and assessing a $5,000 fine on each truck driver.

However, when the case reached D.C. Superior Court, the judge dismissed all charges and berated the city for using a "fly dumping" law, which prohibits the dumping of refuse in vacant lots.

In response, the city passed an ordinance in July that forced haulers to pay a $30 per ton surcharge on all trash brought to local transfer stations. And in December, the city council struck again, passing emergency legislation that set higher permit fees and taxes on such facilities. The move is part of a plan to force haulers to transport D.C. garbage to a landfill owned by Fairfax County in nearby Lorton, Va., where the cit-y, under an interlocal agreement, collects millions of dollars a year in tipping charges.

The December bill could be called the "Anti-Northeast resolution," said company lawyer Mark Griffin. Grif-fin has spent many hours in court defending a series of charges that the city filed against NDC for illegal dumping, polluting the environment and improperly securing a zoning certificate.

Transfer stations in the District send local refuse to cheaper landfill sites outside the D.C. metropolitan ar-ea. For their part, haulers prefer the in-town transfer stations over the Lorton landfill where, besides Fairfax County tipping fees, they pay a $36 per ton surcharge that county officials pass along to the city department of public works.

Haulers have been delighted with the opening of several transfer stations in commercially-zoned parts of the city during the past few years. But D.C. officials see it as a loss of millions in revenue.

Escalating fees and taxes on transfer stations is the city's response to Lorton's cash shortfall. One way or another, the city wants the money: by making the facilities pay dearly to stay in business or, better still, by forcing them out of business and leaving local haulers no choice but a 40-mile round trip to Lorton.

Under the December bill, the permit fee for a transfer facility would be $15,000, and the city would collect a $10 per ton "host charge" - not based on actual tonnage received but instead on potential annual processing capacity. For good measure, the city had previously authorized a $30 per ton surcharge on waste hauled from the District but not dumped at the Lorton landfill. (As of De-cember 31 the city had not begun to collect this surcharge.)

"It's an obvious effort to bankrupt companies that operate waste transfer facilities in competition with the District," said a lawyer for another transfer facility.

If and when the District decides to start collecting the $30 dumping surcharge, facility owners promise to go to court, arguing that the fee unconstitutionally restricts the free flow of garbage in interstate commerce.

Despite the city's claim that the transfer station laws are meant to regulate, not eliminate, these facilities, the chairman of the city council's Committee on Public Works an-nounced at a public hearing last Oc-tober that he would "get" NDC and that he categorically opposed all waste transfer stations operating in the District.

Superfund Authority. States think they will get more influence o-ver Superfund activities if the GOP-dominated 104th Congress reauthorizes the Comprehensive Environ- mental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), according to a Wisconsin official.

Mark Giesfeldt, who works in the Emergency and Remedial Response Office of the state's Department of Natural Resources, told a December gathering of environmental professionals that many states are interested in managing aspects of the CERCLA program at contaminated sites within their borders. Giesfeldt also chairs the Superfund subcommittee of the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO).

Willing and able state environmental officials should be given a say-so in areas such as site investigations, appropriate cleanup levels and immediate responses to contamination, Giesfeldt said.

For its part, ASTSWMO is likely to ask Congress for legislation limiting state cost-sharing to 10 percent for remedial work, as well as for long-term operation and maintenance expenses.

States now pay 10 percent of remedial action costs and all long-term operation and maintenance costs.

States would prefer an across-the-board measurable risk level and more attention to prospective land uses before settling on how "clean" a site must be, he said. A number of state officials think municipal solid waste landfills should be withdrawn from the Superfund program and handled separately, he added.

New Jersey agencies will need good reasons for taking federal laws and make them tougher, according to an Executive Order issued by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

State agencies that want compliance standards that are more stringent than federal norms must fully explain why they are doing so and must perform a cost-benefit analysis. In addition, department heads will have to certify that the explanation and the analysis "permit the public to understand accurately and plainly the purposes and expected consequences" of the proposed rule.

An industry spokesperson called the action "a positive first step" and said it was "refreshing to see the governor acknowledge that some regulations are unwarranted" and confusing.

Meantime, state environmental officials say they already are short of funds for the kind of scientific and technological research needed to justify more stringent state standards. In addition, regulators say they lack the staff and the know-how for the required cost-benefit analysis.