August 1, 2005
A BILL THAT WOULD ALLOW states to limit the amount of Canadian solid waste disposed of in their landfills has been approved by a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. In June, the House's Energy and Commerce Committee passed the International Solid Waste Importation and Management Act of 2005 (HR-2491). The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Paul Gillmoor, R-Ohio, now moves to the full House for consideration.
The legislation would require the Washington-based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin enforcing a 1992 bilateral agreement between the United States and Canada within two years. The agreement requires the country exporting solid waste to notify the receiving country of shipments of solid waste and gives the receiving country the right to reject waste shipments if they threaten human health or the environment.
In the time between when the bill becomes law and the agreement is enforced, states would be allowed to establish laws limiting the importation of foreign solid waste. The legislation stipulates that such laws must be “consistent with international trade obligations.” After EPA begins enforcing the 1992 agreement, the agency would have to “give substantial weight to the views” of the state in which the trash would be imported when deciding whether to accept a Canadian trash shipment, the bill says. The state laws can remain in effect after the EPA starts to enforce the bilateral agreement.
The bill has the enthusiastic backing of Michigan representatives. Toronto began sending its solid waste to the Carleton Farm landfill in Sumpter Township, Mich., in early 2003, and the shipments were immediately met with strong opposition from Michigan residents and politicians.
State legislators say the Canadian trash shipments pose environmental risks and compromise border security. Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), notes that EPA has said the importations present no health or safety concerns.
Both NSWMA and the Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) oppose HR-2491. Parker says it remains to be seen whether the bill will receive a vote by the House, but points out that Congress is busy with high-profile tasks — such as the vote on the recent Supreme Court nomination — that may decrease the chances of it coming up for a vote. Also, “I can't imagine an instance in which a [state] law [restricting foreign waste] would not be inconsistent with our international obligations,” he says.
John Skinner, executive director and CEO of SWANA, says similar initiatives have not made it far in Congress in recent years. “To be honest, I'd be very surprised if it moves towards passage,” he says.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says out-of-state waste disposed of in state landfills decreased for the third consecutive year in 2004. Last year, Pennsylvania, which is the largest importer of trash in the nation, received 10.1 million tons of out-of-state trash, down more than 4 percent from 2003's total.
Increasing fuel prices are behind the decline, according to DEP. With the increasing cost of shipping trash by truck, moving trash by rail has become more popular, and Pennsylvania does not have any landfills with direct rail access, DEP says.
Thomas McMonigle, president of the Easton, Pa.-based Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association, says the state's per-ton disposal fee increase also has contributed to the decrease in out-of-state trash. In 2002, the state more than doubled its tipping fees.
Virginia and Ohio, the nation's second and fourth largest importers of out-of-state solid waste, saw their imports increase in 2004. Virginia received 7.8 million tons of out-of-state trash last year, up about 18 percent from 2003, according to the state's DEP. Ohio's landfills took in 3.1 million tons of solid waste, an increase of 24 percent from 2003.