“Out-of–State, Out of Mind”
David E. Hess
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
March 20, 2002
Chairman Jeffords, Senator Smith, members of the committee my name is David Hess, and I am the Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. I am here today on behalf of Governor Mark Schweiker to talk to you about an issue of great importance to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – interstate waste.
Pennsylvanians have been struggling with this issue for more than a decade. In 1988, we faced a garbage crisis with only 18 months of total disposal capacity to the present with an ever increasing flood of waste from outside our borders almost doubling the millions of tons of garbage disposed of in our state every year. We solved our problem by building a statewide waste management infrastructure through a Commonwealth-wide recycling program and sound, scientifically based landfill standards.
Just a quick glance at our waste management statistics underscores our concern. Disposal figures in 2001 indicate that 26.6 million tons of waste was disposed in Pennsylvania waste facilities. Of this, nearly half – 12.6 million tons or 47.3% – was imported from at least 20 states.
Over the past seven years, Governor Ridge, Governor Schweiker, previous DEP Secretary Jim Seif and I visited many members of Congress to urge you to resolve this issue. Our message has been simple and consistent – pass federal legislation giving communities a voice in deciding whether trash from other states should be disposed of in their communities.
As long as states can export unlimited quantities of trash to their neighbors, there is no incentive to deal with this reality by creating their own waste management infrastructure.
For a number of years, states have attempted to regulate the movement of waste across their borders, only to be denied that right by the courts.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the lower court decision that the Commonwealth of Virginia’s solid waste laws regulating out-of-state waste unduly interfered with interstate commerce.
This most recent court action underscores the need for Congress to act on this issue and provide states with the ability to manage the importation of municipal waste from other states.
Our resolve in finding a regional solution to our waste issues remains unchanged, but federal legislation remains the only key to reducing unwanted trash imports.
The people of Pennsylvania are asking Congress to give them a voice in deciding whether trash from other states should come to their communities for disposal. We are not seeking to build a fence around our borders to turn back every waste truck, or to turn our backs on the legitimate needs of our neighbors. We are not asking for federal money. We are simply asking the Congress to give the states the authority to place reasonable limits on unwanted municipal waste imports in a planned, balanced and predictable manner.
Specifically, Pennsylvania is seeking federal legislation that gives us some basic tools:
1. Give Pennsylvania’s communities the ability to allow the disposal of imported waste through host community agreements, which would address concerns such as operating hours, truck traffic, noise and litter before permits are issued;
2. Impose a freeze on waste imports immediately, with a predictable schedule for reducing imports over time;
3. Allow states to impose a percentage cap on the amount of imported waste that a new facility could receive; and
4. Allow states to consider in-state capacity as part of the permitting process.
In numerous decisions dating back to 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the transportation 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.
There have been a number of legislative efforts that squarely address the interstate waste commerce question and present a fair and equitable solution to both importing as well as exporting states.
Legislation introduced by Senator Specter (S 1194 – June 18, 2001) and a similar bill by Congressman Greenwood (HR 1213 - March 27, 2001) incorporate similar provisions that Pennsylvania supports. We have also supported legislation sponsored by Senators Voinovich and Bayh, and have worked in the past with Senator Warner and former Senator Robb.
While we wait for Congressional action, Pennsylvania has moved forward in our efforts to strive for cleaner, safer communities, and environmentally educated citizens.
Pennsylvania has created a world-class recycling program that serves over 10 million residents in over 1,485 communities, and has resulted in Pennsylvanians recycling over 32% of all waste they generated, diverting one-third of our trash from disposal.
In 1988, we recycled 167,000 tons of materials. Today, we recycle more than 3.4 million tons – more than twenty times as much! Recycling diverts materials destined for disposal, and at the same time, provides jobs and infuses over $20 billion annually into Pennsylvania’s economy. There are currently more than 3,200 recycling and reuse businesses in the Commonwealth, which employ more than 81,000 people. And the lessons we’ve learned on environmental responsibility are invaluable.
Materials that were once considered unusable and unrecyclable are building better and safer roads. We have begun pilot projects that incorporate the use of recycled plastics in ‘plasphalt’, glass cullet for pipe backfill along roadways, and shredded tires as light weight fill in highway bridge approaches.
Playgrounds and recreational trails are constructed from discarded tires from waste tire piles that at one time blighted Pennsylvania’s landscape.
Composting of household organic waste diverts 21% of food waste and other organic material from the municipal waste stream adding up to 2.2 million tons annually.
And we have 12 years of permitted disposal capacity to continue to meet the waste disposal needs of the Commonwealth using the nation’s toughest environmental standards.
We don't back down from our responsibilities. We know what the responsible thing to do is and we do it. However, the same cannot always be said of our neighbors.
Recently in his proposed budget, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City announced the 18-month suspension of metal, glass and plastic recycling programs. Although their proposal is expected to save the city an estimated $57 million, the real costs are assumed by other states like Pennsylvania. Clearly, if this proposal is passed, Pennsylvania will receive even more waste.
We sincerely hope the City of New York recognizes the hard work we have done in Pennsylvania to make our recycling program one of the best in the nation, and rejects any proposal aimed at lessening their environmental responsibilities at the costs of others. We have reason to believe that they will and that they will continue their commitment to waste reduction and recycling.
The city plans to make recommendations to Governor Pataki and the New York legislature regarding ways to reduce waste exports and the siting of new landfills outside of New York City. We are committed to being a good neighbor as demonstrated by our partnership with New York’s city and state officials in managing waste and demolition debris disposal in the wake of the tragic events of September 11th.
In addressing Pennsylvania’s waste capacity issues responsibly, Governor Schweiker has initiated and supported legislation introduced in the General Assembly that proposes a landfill moratorium on new permits, limits landfill capacity, and supports host community agreements that address concerns such as landfill operating hours, truck traffic, noise and litter.
Trash truck safety is an important component of the overall waste importation dilemma. The increase in truck traffic due to the transportation of waste over state lines has resulted in more traffic accidents, roadside littering, leaking loads and wear-and-tear on our highways. Trucks hauling trash make over 600,000 trips a year in Pennsylvania alone.
New tough truck safety legislation has also been introduced that will establish a comprehensive authorization program for waste hauling vehicles that operate in Pennsylvania. A complete review of the transporter’s compliance history will also be required, before a written authorization is issued. The bill also establishes civil and criminal penalties for persons who violate the provisions of the written authorization and continue to have environmental and safety violations.
In an unprecedented effort to reduce the high rate of safety and environmental violations of trash haulers, our agency, in conjunction with PennDOT and the PA State Police, launched “Operation Clean Sweep” – surprise trash truck inspections at every landfill and major incinerator in the state for eight days straight during May 2001. Over 500 inspectors from all three agencies participated.
“Operation Clean Sweep” identified hundreds of unsafe trash trucks – 86% of the trash trucks had safety violations and more than one-third of the trucks were removed from service as unsafe vehicles. During “Operation Clean Sweep” we inspected more than 40,000 trucks, which resulted in over 11,000 safety and environmental violations issued.
Our democracy is built on the foundation of empowering people to make choices. It is also built on fairness.
The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are asking Congress for a fair and equitable opportunity to make responsible decisions with regard to waste entering our communities from out of state – this missing piece of legislative authority will allow us to better manage and control almost half of the waste disposed of in our state.
Senators, you have the power to provide that missing piece. Pennsylvania has toiled over the past fourteen years to provide a comprehensive and accountable waste management system to manage the wastes our citizens generate. We have developed successful programs to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be managed and permitted landfill capacity to deal with the remainder. My agency has worked diligently to ensure the waste industry improves its compliance and safety records. The Pennsylvania General Assembly has worked to develop equitable solutions for transportation safety and host community protections. Your help will result in a complete approach to managing waste rather then a partial solution Pennsylvania’s efforts alone would deliver.
Pennsylvania looks forward to a positive response from Congress and stands ready to work with you on developing legislation that will assure equitable, cost effective and reliable waste disposal for all communities.