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Legislation would help cities halt out-of-state garbage.

The United States produced roughly 180 million tons of garbage last year, or almost four pounds per person each day. Eighty percent of our trash is buried in landfills, many of which are quickly reaching capacity.

Due to increases in the amount of municipal waste we generate and decreases in landfill space available, interstate shipments of trash are increasing dramatically. Almost 15 million tons of garbage were shipped across state lines for disposal last year. That is enough garbage to fill a convoy of 10-ton trash trucks more than 11,600 miles long. All too often, this garbage has been dumped in unwanted private landfills in rural communities.

Private landfills in rural localities have become depositories for urban America's garbage. Entrepreneurs are making substantial profits by converting farms into private landfills and filling them with garbage imported from urban centers.

By and large, local governments have found themselves powerless to halt that practice. The recent Supreme Court decision in Fort Gratiot v. Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, rendered on June 1, 1992, highlighted the inability of localities to protect themselves from unwanted waste. The Supreme Court struck down a Michigan law which allowed local governments to ban the importation of any waste generated outside their jurisdictions. The Court reiterated that the Constitution prohibits states and localities from discriminating against the commerce, including garbage, of another state, unless authorized to do so by Congress. At present, Congress has provided no such authorization.

This situation has given rise to a powerful national effort to give communities some say in the initial decision to create private landfills for out-of-state garbage importation. This effort is based on two fundamental beliefs: (1) in instances where a proposed landfill is not consistent with the local public interest, the local government should have absolute authority to prohibit the disposal of out-of-state waste; and (2) in those circumstances where for economic and other reasons the local citizenry is willing to receive out-of-state waste, the terms and conditions under which the waste is deposited in landfills should be negotiated between the local government and the party seeking to operate the landfill.

These concepts are embodied in legislation I have introduced, the Local Government Interstate Waste Control Act. The measure would give the local governing body with respect to each new landfill proposal the power to approve or disapprove the importation of waste from out of state.

While local governments would receive absolute power to ban new out-of-state waste receiving private landfills, the measure would not halt interstate commerce in garbage. Instead it would provide balance by assuring that waste only goes where it is wanted.

And plenty of areas want it. Numerous private landfills receiving out-of-state garbage are operated today with the blessing of local governments. These landfill operators, as a matter of sound business practice, negotiate contracts with the host communities where their facilities will be located. Companies such as Waste Management, Inc.; Browning-Ferris Industries; Chambers Development Corporation, and Laidlaw, Inc. work under the principle that no new landfill will be sited without local government approval. The terms and conditions of locating and operating the landfill are fully negotiated in advance. In the typical case, localities view these operations as another business investment providing economic opportunities.

For example, the government of Charles City County, Va. negotiated a contract with Chambers Development Company, Inc. to operate a landfill for disposal of both local waste and waste imported from New York and New Jersey. By bargaining with Chambers, the county not only gained a landfill it desperately needed but could not afford, but the fees generated by the contract permitted the county to build a new school while reducing property taxes by approximately 23 percent.

While some landfill developers neogtiate with the host communities, many do not. Localities, which bear the burden of large out-of-=state waste landfills should be given the right, rather than the occasional opportunity, to negotiate the terms for accepting out-of-state waste.

Such an approach is also in the intent of garbage exporting cities which would benefit from a legally certain standard and the proven ability of reputable landfill operators to negotiate agreements for garbage importation with rural localities.

Given the public furor in rural areas over the importation of unwanted urban garbage, it is clear that legislation addressing that concern will pass in 1992. Rather than building legislative barriers to commerce, the Congres should guarantee for localities a place at the bargaining table and allow the parties in an open discussion to weigh all relevant issues, an approach which best serves both urban and rural interests.
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Author:Boucher, Rick
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 15, 1992
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