TESTIMONY OF JAMES M. SEIF, SECRETARY,
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE
ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS MARCH 18, 1997

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.

My name is Jim Seif and I am Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). On behalf of Governor Ridge, I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about the issue of unwanted municipal solid waste coming into our Commonwealth for disposal.

Pennsylvania's number one federal environmental legislative priority this year is to see Congress pass effective legislation allowing states to control unwanted imports of municipal solid waste.

While other states choose to ignore their responsibilities to take care of their own waste, Pennsylvania did not. We made the hard decisions to set up the nation's most comprehensive curbside recycling program and built a waste disposal infrastructure that meets the highest environmental standards.

What was our reward? To see waste from other states fill up the disposal capacity we created by asking our citizens to recycle. And waste from other states goes to our landfills because other states refused to issue permits for landfills in their states.

Unfortunately, the trend for municipal waste exporting is getting worse not better. Municipal waste imports into Pennsylvania increased by 1.2 million tons in 1996 to 6.6 million. Pennsylvanians generate about 9 million tons of waste a year.

How bad is the problem for Pennsylvania? The Congressional Research Service report entitled "Interstate Shipment of Municipal Solid Waste: 1996 Update," shows Pennsylvania is the largest net importer of municipal waste. In fact, Pennsylvania imports over three times as much municipal waste as the state in second place. We receive "nearly one-third the national total for interstate waste shipments," according to the CRS Report.

We have worked closely with three other major importing states -- Indiana, Michigan and Ohio -- over the last 3 years to deal with the problem of interstate waste, and we will continue to be part of that bipartisan four-state coalition. Last year Governor Ridge, along with 23 other Governors urged Congress to enact interstate waste legislation.

Pennsylvania's Municipal Waste Management Success Story

The Commonwealth's system for managing municipal waste has four key elements:

-- tough standards for waste disposal and resource recovery facilities that are protective of human health and the environment;

-- county waste planning that ensures a minimum of ten years of disposal capacity;

-- the largest curbside recycling program in the nation, a mixture of county designated flow control and free market concepts.

Through the efforts of Pennsylvania's public and private sectors, we now have a stable solid waste infrastructure that benefits all of our citizens.

We are self-sufficient and we have balanced our need to ensure adequate waste disposal capacity for Pennsylvania's citizens with the desire to preserve the rural heritage and natural beauty of William Penn's woods.

It wasn't always so. In the mid-1980s Pennsylvania faced a municipal waste crisis. Disposal rates were increasing rapidly as disposal capacity was shrinking.

At one point, Pennsylvania had only 12 to 18 months of disposal capacity left in the entire state. Pennsylvania's old, substandard, unlined landfills and town dumps -- numbering over 1,100 -- were being shut down by the state because of their environmental inadequacy. And no new facilities were being opened because neither the private nor public sector was willing to invest in new disposal facilities in a state that had an uncertain permitting process and no comprehensive planning. As a result, Pennsylvania was exporting significant amounts of waste to New Jersey and other states.

At the same time, there were few organized state or local government recycling efforts. Recycling was something left to a few innovative communities and the Boy Scouts and church groups at make-shift drop-off centers in shopping malls.

That all changed in 1988, when Pennsylvania took the first step toward self sufficiency by enacting the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act (Act 101).

The Act assigns counties the responsibility for waste planning, requires recycling, authorizes programs to encourage waste reduction, requires government to set the example and purchase products made with recycled content, provides funding for host municipality inspectors, and requires landfills and other facilities to pay host community fees. It also imposed new safeguards at waste management facilities in Pennsylvania, building on the authority given the Department in the Solid Waste Management Act of 1980 to set environmental protection standards for landfills, incinerators and other waste facilities.

Before Act 101, there was no comprehensive waste planning done at any level of government in Pennsylvania. Now, all 67 counties have municipal waste management plans in place that review waste generation levels, consider currently permitted and pending municipal waste disposal facilities and their relative locations, and adopt strategies to ensure a minimum of ten years disposal capacity. Counties have taken a variety of approaches to assuring future capacity, from directing waste to particular facilities to having a menu of disposal facilities available.

As of today, Pennsylvania has 51 permitted double-lined landfills and 7 resource recovery incinerators. At the present rate of disposal, these facilities should provide disposal capacity for the next 10-15 years. If the rapid increase of out-of-state waste continues, however, this hard-won disposal capacity will be taken from us.

Pennsylvania has made tremendous strides to improve statewide recycling. Ten years ago, Pennsylvania had fewer than 75 curbside recycling programs and recycled only 2 percent of its municipal waste. Today Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of curbside recycling programs with 864. Combined with the 253 drop-off programs, recycling is now available to

8.7 million residents and businesses in 1,355 communities, who together recycled over 2 million tons in 1996 -- 20 percent of Pennsylvania's municipal waste. Pennsylvania's educational outreach efforts have won regional, national and international acclaim, including a 1992 United Nations Award for excellence in communicating a priority issue. Last year, Pennsylvania was the host state for the 15th annual National Recycling Congress in Pittsburgh.

Recycling programs at the local level are financed in part by the state's Recycling Fund, which is supported by a $2 per ton fee on municipal waste received at waste disposal facilities. To date, this fund has provided over $180 million to local and county governments to support their recycling and planning efforts. Pennsylvania has also provided more than $35 million in low interest loans and technology grants to industry to assist it in developing new recycled products.

More than 85 Pennsylvania companies manufacture recycled products, and the Commonwealth leads the Northeast in the number and percentage of manufacturing jobs related to recycling.

State government has also done its part to increase recycling. Pennsylvania has established recycling programs at all state agencies and has steadily increased its procurement of recycled products, which in turn helps to create new markets. In fiscal year 1995/96, Pennsylvania purchased $40 million in products containing at least 10 percent recycled content, a 20 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. In 1995, 4,500 tons of materials were recycled in the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg.

With regard to setting environmental standards, after working to close over 1,100 municipal waste dumps that were unsafe, out-dated and unprotective, Pennsylvania adopted new municipal waste landfill and resource recovery incinerator regulations that are among the toughest in the nation. Pennsylvania requires all municipal waste landfills to have double liners, leachate collection and treatment and specifically approves all streams of non-hazardous residual waste going to facilities to make sure they can handle it safely.

Unwanted Municipal Waste Imports -- "If you build it, they will come"

One large unintended consequence of building a world class municipal waste infrastructure is that the amount of waste being imported into Pennsylvania has increased steadily and shows no sign of slowing down. We built it, and with no controls, they came. In 1987, Pennsylvania's waste imports were less than 3 million tons. Ten years later, Pennsylvania is importing over 6.6 million tons of waste to municipal waste facilities from 29 states. Exhibit 1, shows how dramatically our waste imports have increased -- over 130 percent since 1989.

As import levels have risen, so too has the level of concern among many Pennsylvanians who fear that our state is rapidly becoming a dumping ground.

Pennsylvanians' fears about increasing levels of unwanted municipal waste imports were greatly heightened in May of last year, when New York City announced that it intended to close the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island by 2001. That will add 4.7 million tons of waste per year to the waste market. Governor Ridge recently expressed his concerns to Governor Pataki and Mayor Guiliani about their Task Force report which recommends continued reliance on out-of-state facilities to resolve New York City's trash problem.

These concerns also can be seen in editorials and letters to the editor from all parts of the Commonwealth. For example, a recent editorial in the Scranton Tribune dated December 5, 1996 stated: "We are sick of being a garbage dump for other states. Let New York State find a place within its borders for New York City's garbage." The Sunbury Daily Item on January 17, 1997 stated: "It's not right that officials in New York solve their waste problems by shipping huge quantities of garbage to Pennsylvania. After all our landfills are limited too. If we fill them with New York's garbage, where will we dispose of garbage generated by Pennsylvania's 12 million people?"

In many of our communities, while residents are willing to accept the burdens associated with disposing of their own trash, such as truck traffic, noise, odors and other nuisances, they find it simply unacceptable that other states appear either unwilling or unable to take some of the same actions we took to handle their own trash. Moreover, our citizens feel that all of their efforts to increase recycling are being lost in a sea of rising waste imports.

Waste imports since 1988 were four times the amount of waste recycled by all Pennsylvanians. The total tonnage of waste recycled since Act 101 went into effect in 1988 is approximately 8 million tons. Total imports in that same time period were in excess of 32 million tons.

Pennsylvania's Response

States recognize that we presently do not have the power to impose limits on any municipal waste being imported into the Commonwealth. In numerous decisions dating back to 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the transport and disposal of municipal waste is interstate commerce protected by the Constitution and that states do not have the authority to limit the flow of waste across state lines, until Congress grants them that authority.

In the last two years in numerous letters, and on visits to Washington to meet with congressional leaders, Governor Ridge has asked Congress to give us that authority.

In addition, responding to the concerns of their constituents, Pennsylvania's House and Senate passed separate resolutions in June 1996 calling on the Congress to approve legislation authorizing states to restrict the amount of solid waste imported from other states (Exhibit 2).

We expect similar actions this year.

In January 1997, the Citizens Advisory Council to the Pennsylvania DEP, sent a letter to Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation urging them "to work aggressively to pass federal legislation that would provide an equitable framework to require each state to be responsible for providing capacity within its borders for the disposal of its citizens' waste, and giving states authority over importation of out-of-state waste." (Exhibit 3).

Despite all of our efforts, federal interstate waste legislation did not make it through the last Congress.

At this point, Pennsylvania has done all that it can do with regard to minimizing the impacts that municipal waste, whether generated in-state or out-of-state, has on our communities.

Last month, my Department released new policies in response to an Executive Order issued by Governor Ridge on August 29, 1996. That order required my Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to (1) evaluate all existing municipal waste landfills, resource recovery and transfer facilities to make sure they are not causing environmental or traffic safety problems; and (2) conduct a review of our municipal waste program to see how DEP could more effectively analyze new permit applications in terms of traffic impacts, volumes of waste accepted and their general environmental impact.

With the help of DEP's Solid Waste Advisory Committee and other groups, the Department recently issued new policies in the following areas:

-- Traffic Safety: DEP now has developed a more detailed procedure, developed in cooperation with the Department of Transportation, to review the potential traffic safety impacts of new or expanded municipal waste disposal facilities and transfer stations, that will be based in part on the studies done at existing facilities.

-- Waste Volumes Accepted: DEP has developed a specific procedure to set daily volume limits on municipal waste facilities to reduce environmental and safety hazards.

-- Environmental Assessments: DEP is now using a more comprehensive environmental assessment process for identifying community and environmental impacts such as incompatible land uses and impacts on other natural and cultural resources like scenic rivers and historic sites, as recommended by a stakeholders group that I and our County Commissioners Association convened to recommend improvements to Act 101.

All pending and future applications for increases in disposal capacity or waste volumes will now be reviewed by DEP in accordance with the new policies and procedures developed under the Governor's Order.

DEP will be working closely with host counties and host municipalities affected by permit applications to assess the problems created by proposed facilities.

In addition to these steps, DEP, the Department of Transportation, State Police and the Public Utility Commission will be continuing random inspections of waste trucks on our Interstate highways and at landfills and resource recovery facilities to make sure they meet our safety and environmental rules. The surprise inspections we conducted last year resulted in citing 689 waste truck drivers for 905 violations. A total of 2,632 waste trucks were inspected at nine separate locations around the state. A disproportionately large percentage of the violations were found to exist on trucks hauling waste from out-of-state. We proposed as part of our budget this year a new initiative that would allow communities to hire their own waste truck inspectors to supplement our own inspection program.

Our inspection program complements the Operation Waste STAR (Safer Trucks and Roads) driver safety education program announced last year by the Pennsylvania Waste Industry Association. This new voluntary program requires participants to do a 57-point safety check of their truck every day it is used. The association gives trucks that pass the inspection a star sticker to display.

As part of our truck inspection effort, I have notified my counterparts in the states that send waste to Pennsylvania of our inspection program and have asked them to notify waste haulers in their states of our initiative. In addition, I recently signed a mutual aid agreement with Robert Shinn, the Commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, that commits both of our states to continue random independent vehicle inspections and to conduct joint operations with state police and other agencies.

As I noted above, Pennsylvania believes that it has taken all the actions that it legally can to protect its citizens from out-of-state waste. But it's clearly not enough. We need congressional action, and we need it now more than ever.

What We Are Not Asking For

I want to make clear that Pennsylvania is not interested in turning our backs on the legitimate needs of our neighbors. We recognize that every state has its own unique set of values and needs that reflect fiscal and political constraints in dealing with waste issues, but we don't want to be thought of as the first option for disposing of waste from other states either.

We are also not asking for federal money or for more federal regulations. We are simply asking for the tools we need to protect our communities from unreasonable amounts of unwanted municipal waste from other states.

What We Are Asking For

Simply put, if the Supreme Court says that states need Congressional authorization to regulate the flow of trash across state lines, then Pennsylvanians, including the Governor, the members of our General Assembly, and our Citizens Advisory Council, say that it's time for Congress to give us that authority.

Pennsylvania seeks to protect the fiscal, political, social and community investment that has been made in our solid waste infrastructure -- an investment that has allowed us to move from ground zero to a world class, environmentally safe waste management system in less than a decade.

We are asking Congress to give states, like Pennsylvania, the tools that will allow state and local governments to place reasonable limits on unwanted municipal waste imports. In particular, we are asking for authority to allow individual communities to say that they do not have to accept out-of-state garbage if they don't want to. There are local governments in Pennsylvania that have already signed host community agreements that specifically authorize the import of out-of-state garbage. These agreements should be honored. On the other hand, if the local government decides that it does not want waste brought in from other states, Congress should protect those wishes as well.

We are looking forward to working with the Committee and its staff to develop interstate waste legislation that does the following:

-- allows states to impose a freeze on out-of-state waste at 1993 levels

-- authorizes states to reduce or ratchet down the levels of waste imports where there are no host community agreements

-- prohibits waste imports at facilities that did not receive waste in 1993 until the affected local government approves its receipt

-- allows states to deny a permit for disposal facilities based on need

-- allows states to impose a percentage cap on the amount of waste that a new facility or major modification of an existing facility could receive.

In addition to supporting controls on interstate waste, Pennsylvania also requests that Congress authorize the use of flow control ordinances to direct waste to particular waste disposal facilities, especially when it is needed to protect public investments. The issues of interstate waste and flow control have historically been tied together and we see no reason to break them apart. If Pennsylvania's neighbors, such as New Jersey, had the ability to enforce flow control, there would be significant benefits to the Commonwealth because it would help these states to keep their waste within their borders.

How We Will Use the Tools Congress Gives Us

I can assure you that we have no intention of using any of the new tools that Congress may give us to act punitively toward any state or community that has sent waste to Pennsylvania.

Despite our growing alarm over the closure of Fresh Kills, we have continued to pursue a meaningful and constructive dialogue with our counterparts in New York. Last July, leaders from our General Assembly, along with my Deputy Secretary for Special Projects met with New York state environmental officials and legislators in Albany to try to build a consensus between the importing and exporting states on federal legislation. Governor Ridge and Governor Pataki have discussed the issue. I believe mutually acceptable legislation can be enacted.

While we are grateful that the Senate is moving forward, we continue to be concerned about the inability of the House to move a bill. The Senate passed S. 534 not once, but twice, in the last Congress but the House failed to follow your lead.

The Pennsylvania experience -- this 10-year successful effort -- need not be unique; others can do it too. But if the lesson of that success is simply that any state in the lead gets to be a safety valve for others lagging behind, if it reduces others' incentives to even make the effort, and if Congress looks the other way, no other success stories can be told. Worse yet, Pennsylvania will bear the costs of others' failures.

We are happy to work with the Committee to build consensus and to help get a bill that can be signed into law at the earliest possible date.

Thank you.