As the Wheels Turn

September proved to be a busy month for those involved in the ongoing saga of Canadian waste shipments to Michigan.

The action began with U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin from Michigan announcing that they had reached a deal with Ontario to eliminate “municipally managed” solid waste shipments from the province into the state by 2010. The agreement calls for a 20 percent decrease during the first year and a 40 percent reduction during the following two years, before ending shipments altogether. The senators estimate that the agreement will prevent nearly 2.8 million tons of Ontario's trash from entering the state between now and 2010.

In exchange for the curtailment, Stabenow and Levin have vowed to drop their amendments that recently were passed by the U.S. Senate. In July, the Senate approved a provision — part of the fiscal year 2007 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill — sponsored by Stabenow that would impose a $420 fee on each of the nearly 350 waste trucks that cross the border every day. Levin sponsored a related provision that would require trash trucks to undergo screening comparable to that of other commercial vehicles entering the United States.

Many industry experts, including Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association, questioned the legality of Stabenow's amendment. That didn't stop the senator, though, from trying to use it as leverage in her dealings with Laurel Broten, Minister of the Environment. “It is critical that we move forward expeditiously, since the legislation that includes the inspection fees may be finalized in September,” Stabenow wrote in an Aug. 18 letter to Broten.

The deal with Ontario, however, does not affect the industrial, institutional and commercial waste that makes up two-thirds of the waste that Michigan receives, a point of contention for some of the agreement's opponents. Levin acknowledged the gap, saying in a statement that he would “[work] with colleagues to address the non-municipally managed waste coming into Michigan, which amounts to 2.2 million tons per year.”

Shortly after the compromise was announced, the House approved H.R. 2491, legislation that would amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act to prevent other countries from importing trash without first obtaining a state's approval. Companion legislation (S.1198) is now in the Senate. If passed by the Senate and signed by President Bush, the legislation would validate a bill that Michigan Gov. Jennifer signed in March, prohibiting international waste from being shipped into the state.

According to Levin's office, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has not scheduled a hearing on the bill. “If the Senate Republican leadership changes its mind and decides to bring this bill to the Senate for a vote, I will support it,” Levin said in a statement.

On the other side of the border, the Toronto City Council voted to purchase the Green Lane landfill in Southwestern Ontario for an undisclosed amount. The city said in a release that Toronto will now have a place to send its waste for at least the next 15 years. It will, however, continue its contract with a Michigan landfill that ends in 2010.

The landfill, which is equipped with a methane gas system, is the first to be owned and operated by the city. In addition to solid waste, Toronto also will send its sewage sludge to the site, following a recent Michigan ban on the substance. The landfill purchase may mean increased solid waste fees for residents, but was seen as a necessity, especially in light of Michigan's ongoing efforts.