STATEMENT OF SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER
ON SOLID WASTE LEGISLATION BEFORE THE
SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
MARCH 18, 1997

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today on the critical issue of interstate shipments of solid waste, which is a top environmental priority for me and for millions of Pennsylvanians. As you are aware, Congress came very close to enacting legislation to address this issue in 1994, and the Senate passed interstate waste and flow control legislation in May, 1995 by an overwhelming 94-6 margin, only to see it die in the House of Representatives. I am confident that with the strong leadership of my good friends and colleagues, Dan Coats, Chairmen Chafee and Smith, and Max Baucus, we can get quick action on a strong waste bill and put the necessary pressure on the other body to conclude this effort once and for all.

As you are aware, the Supreme Court has put us in the position of having to intervene in the issue of trash shipments. In recent years, the Court has struck down State laws restricting the importation of solid waste from other jurisdictions under the Interstate Commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The only solution is for Congress to enact legislation conferring such authority on the States, which would then be Constitutional.

It is high time that the largest trash exporting States bite the bullet and take substantial Steps towards self-sufficiency for waste disposal. The legislation passed by the Senate in the 103rd and 104th Congresses would have provided much-needed relief to Pennsylvania, which is by far the largest importer of out-of-State waste in the nation. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which is ably headed by one of your other witnesses today, Secretary Jim Seif, 3.9 million tons of out-of-State municipal solid waste entered Pennsylvania in 1993, rising to 4.3 million tons in 1994, 5.2 million in 1995, and a record 6.3 million tons from out-of-State in 1996. Most of this trash came from New York and New Jersey, with New York responsible for 2.8 million tons in 1996 (up from 2.3 million tons in 1995) and New Jersey exporting 2.4 million tons to Pennsylvania (up from 1.8 million tons in 1995), representing 83 percent of the municipal solid waste imported into our State.

This is not a problem limited to one small comer of my State. Millions of tons of trash generated in other States finds its final resting place in more than 50 landfills throughout Pennsylvania.

Now, more than ever, we need legislation which will go a long way toward resolving the landfill problems facing Pennsylvania, Indiana, and similar waste importing States. I am particularly concerned by the developments within the past year in New York, where Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani announced the impending closure of the City's one remaining landfill, Fresh Kills in 2001. I am advised that 13,200 tons per day of New York City trash are sent there and that Pennsylvania is a likely destination once Fresh Kills begins its shutdown.

On several occasions, I have met with county officials, environmental groups, and other Pennsylvanians to discuss the solid waste issue specifically, and it often comes up in the public open house town meetings I conduct in all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. I came away from those meetings impressed by the deep concerns expressed by the residents of communities which host a landfill rapidly filling up with the refuse of millions of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans whose States have failed to adequately manage the waste they generate.

Recognizing the recurrent problem of landfill capacity in Pennsylvania, since 19891 have pushed to resolve the interstate waste crisis. I have introduced legislation with my late colleague, Senator John Heinz, and then with Dan Coats and cosponsors from both sides of the aisle which would have authorized States restrict the disposal of out-of-State municipal waste in any landfill or incinerator within its jurisdiction. I was pleased when many of the concepts in our legislation were incorporated in this Committee's reported bills in the 103rd and 104th Congresses and supported both measures strongly during floor consideration.

Some may wonder why there is a need for federal legislation to empower States to restrict cross-border flows of garbage. Simply put, Pennsylvania and other States that were in the forefront of solid waste management have ended up as the dumping ground for States that have been unwilling to enact and enforce realistic long-term waste management plans. Although I am advised that these States are making some progress, some continue to ship increasing amounts of waste to Pennsylvania landfills.

I urge the Committee to report legislation as soon as possible that will lead to significant reductions in the amounts of out-of-State waste imported into Pennsylvania and other States. I believe that the bill in the 104th Congress had the right ingredients: it allowed a Governor to unilaterally freeze out-of-state waste at 1993 levels at landfills and incinerators that received waste in 1993 and included an import state ratchet providing that a Governor could restrict waste imported from any one State in excess of 1.4 million tons in 1996, down to 550,000 tons in 2002 and thereafter. These provisions would provided a concrete incentive for the largest exporting States to get a handle on their solid waste management immediately.

Mr. Chairtnan, I also want to encourage the Committee to include provisions addressing the issue of waste flow control authority. During the 103rd Congress, we encountered a new issue with respect to municipal solid waste -- the issue of waste flow control authority. On May 16, 1994, the Supreme Court held (6-3) in Carbone v. Clarkstown that a flow control ordinance, which requires all solid waste to be processed at a designated waste management facility, violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. In striking down the Clarkstown ordinance, the Court stated that the ordinance discriminated against interstate commerce by allowing only the favored operator to process waste that is within the town's limits.

As a result of the Court's decision, flow control ordinances in Pennsylvania and other States are considered unconstitutional. Therefore, it is necessary for Congress to enact legislation providing clear authorization for local governments to utilize waste flow control.

I have met with county commissioners who have made clear that this issue is vitally important to the local governments in Pennsylvania and my office has, over the past three years received numerous phone calls and letters from individual Pennsylvania counties and municipal solid waste authorities that support waste flow control legislation. Since 1988, flow control has been the primary tool used by Pennsylvania counties to enforce solid waste plans and meet waste reduction/recycling goals or mandates and many Pennsylvania jurisdictions have spent a considerable amount of public funds on disposal facilities, including upgraded sanitary landfills, state-of-the-art resource recovery facilities, and co-composting facilities. In the absence of flow control authority, I am advised that many of these worthwhile projects could be jeopardized and that there has been a fiscal impact on some communities where there are debt service obligations related to the issuance of revenue bonds for the construction of waste management facilities.

The Committee has, in the past, devised appropriate legislation which protected the ability of municipalities to plan effectively for the management of their municipal solid waste while also guaranteeing that market forces will still provide opportunities for enterprising companies in the waste management industry. I urge the Committee to take the same approach in the 105th Congress and to report flow control legislation to the full Senate as soon as possible.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share my views, and I would be glad to answer any questions the Committee might have.