Get In Line

New legislation narrows the rail yard exemption

In late November, President Bush signed legislation effectively ending the federal exemption of all rail facilities that handle solid waste from state and local regulation. The exemption had been granted by the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB).

Under the new law, municipal regulations for transfer facilities do not apply unless the state specifically delegates regulatory authority to the municipality.

"Congress said the exemption doesn't apply anymore, and that if you want to operate a [solid waste transfer] facility, you have to get in line with state and local regulations," says Steve Changaris, Northeast regional manager for the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA). "If you want to do it, they said, do it right." NSWMA and other solid waste organizations have long supported eliminating the federal exemption for rail transfer facilities because of the environmental risks they say are associated with allowing such facilities to handle solid waste without state or local oversight.

Rail facilities that handle solid waste packaged in original shipping containers received from solid waste transfer facilities with proper state and local permits are still eligible for the exemption — meaning facilities that do not directly handle the waste are still eligible for the STB exemption. Also, facilities in operation prior to the signing of the bill will receive a six-month grandfather period to comply with state and local regulations.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection already has issued its regulatory proposal and scheduled a hearing for Dec. 15 to put them in place. "They know what they want to do with this," Changaris says.

U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J. proposed the new law, the Clean Railroads Act, in February 2007.