WASHINGTON -- Localities may face pressure to build bond-financed landfill facilities under legislation being debated on Capitol Hill that would let governors restrict importation of solid waste generated in other states.
A Senate vote on the bill, then Interstate Transportation of Municipal Waste Act of 1992, was expected either last night or today. Its fate is uncertain, however. There is no companion measure in the House, and the Bush administration opposes the bill.
Sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the legislation would give governors power to ban out-of-state municipal waster or to cap waste imports at either 1991 or 1992 levels, whichever is lower.
Governors could use the power only if they receive written requests from local governments that are home to landfills, and so long as current contracts are not abrogated.
The constraints are in part a bow to the differing needs of localities. As one municipal lobbyist put it, "Some places want to take out-of-state waste. For some governments, it is an economic development tool."
Because they export significant amounts of municipal waste, New York and New Jersey could be particularly hard hit by the legislation that may force localities there to build landfills. But the legislation could have implications for many other states.
Officials in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana worry that their states will become national dumping grounds. Those states currently receive the largest amount of out-of-state garbage, and officials want to ensure their disposal capacity is not used up by the trash.
Only four states - Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming - do not export municipal waste to other states.
If most governors decide to exercise the powers the bill would grant, many localities would need to find new dumping grounds, possibly spurring more tax-exempt issuance.
However, a municipal lobbyist said a key problem in developing new sites has been the reluctance of states to grant landfill permits.
"A big part of the problem is getting permits to build new landfills," the lobbyist said. "Nothing is being done to build new facilities."
Provisions similar to the Coats-Baucus legislation are contained in separate House and Senate bills to reauthorize the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. But those bills are considered highly controversial and may become ensnared in gridlock before Congress adjourns this fall, prompting Sen. Coats and Sen. Baucus to offer the interstate trash bill as stand-alone legislation.
The bill was offered in part because of recent Supreme Court rulings reaffirming that solid wastes are commodities subject to the Constitution's interstate commerce clause. The clause vests in Congress sole authority to regulate interstate commerce, preventing states from erecting barriers to the free flow of goods and services.
In Chemical Waste Management Inc. v. Hunt, the court in June struck dow as unconstitutional an Alabama law that levied a higher tax on the disposal of hazardous waste generated outside the state than on locally generated waste.
"As recently as last month, the Supreme Court struck down state restrictions on receipt of out-of-state waste as unconstitutional impediments to interstate commerce because Congress has not authorized such state action," Sen. Baucus said during debate on the bill Monday. "The bill before us fills that void."
Sen. Baucus said he would prefer that the interstate waste issue be dealt with in the more comprehensive resource conservation bill. "I am however, fully aware of the complexity of the [resource legislation] and the need for more consultations with my colleagues before we are ready to proceed to that bill," he said. "I also understand the need for expeditious action on the issue of interstate waste transportation this year."