Congress and Trash

THE START OF THE 109TH congress has brought about a familiar ritual: the introduction of bills designed to curb the flow of interstate waste. While the legislation may receive some attention in states where residents and politicians are agitated over trash imports, solid waste industry officials say the bills are almost certain to repeat recent history and fall on deaf ears on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., has introduced two of the bills. The Solid Waste Interstate Transportation Act of 2005 (H.R. 274) would give the authority to limit trash imports to both state and local governments. The bill would impose a ban on the importation of out-of-state municipal solid waste (MSW), but the ban could be superseded by landfills' host community agreements or permits.

Additionally, local governments would have the authority to limit trash imports into landfills that had received less than 100,000 tons of out-of-state MSW in the preceding year, unless the landfill has a conflicting host community agreement or permit. States would have the ability to restrict trash imports into landfills that had taken in more than 100,000 tons of out-of-state MSW in the preceding year. The states' restriction authority would override host community agreements and permits.

The second bill Davis has introduced is the State Waste Empowerment and Enforcement Act Provision of 2005 (H.R. 70), which allows only states to regulate out-of-state waste. Among other things, the bill would allow states to assess different disposal fees for out-of-state and in-state MSW, and to limit the receipt of out-of-state MSW to a percentage of a landfill's capacity.

Mary Springer, legislative director for Davis, says that H.R. 70 is the congresswoman's “ideal interstate waste legislation.” But, Davis believes that the balance of power between states and local governments in H.R. 274 may give the bill a better chance of advancing.

Virginia is the No. 2 trash importer behind Pennsylvania. Michigan, where the importation of Canadian trash is controversial, is the third-largest waste importer in the country.

Other interstate trash bills include H.R. 553, written by Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., which would allow states with waste plans approved by the Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the importation of solid waste from other states; H.R. 593 by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., which would allow states to restrict the importation of foreign MSW; and S. 346, by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., which would ban the importation of Canadian solid waste without state consent.

Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), says the measures face extreme uphill struggles. “There's no support right now,” he says.

“My political sense is that the [Bush] Administration's platform with Social Security and energy is going to be so time-consuming and demanding to get through that Congress likely will not hold hearings on the [interstate waste] bills and will not take these bills to the floor,” Parker adds. He notes that NSWMA opposes the interstate waste bills.

Barry Shanoff, general counsel for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., voices similar sentiments. “There are a lot of issues that are really difficult problems: Social Security, homeland security and health care,” he says. “Congress has got a whole lot of things to think about. The chances of these [interstate waste] bills getting anywhere lie somewhere between slim and none.”

John Skinner, executive director and CEO of SWANA, says his organization does not support bills that ban or restrict the interstate movement of waste.