Statement of Senator Carl Levin
March 18, 1997
before the
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on
Interstate Transportation and Flow Control of Solid Waste

Mr. Chairman, as you know, I strongly support moving legislation to give state and local governments the authority to regulate the flow of solid waste into and out of their jurisdictions.

Before June 1, 1992, the State of Michigan's Solid Waste Management Act provided that solid waste generated in another county, state, or country, did not have to be accepted for disposal unless authorized in the receiving county's management plan. This planning process worked very well. It provided certainty and assured available disposal capacity on a county or regional basis for the long term by authorizing limitations on the amount of waste that could be imported. On June 1, 1992, the Supreme Court, in the Fort Gratiot case, decided that this part of the Michigan Act was a violation of the Commerce Clause, in the absence of Congressional authorization. This decision has created chaos and undermined sound planning.

Recently, the city of Toronto announced a decision to sign a five-year contract with Browning-Ferris International (BFI) to dump 500,000 tons of trash annually at the Arbor Hills, Michigan landfill which BFI operates in Salem Township, Washtenaw County. That represents approximately 40 or more truckloads per day. This makes a mockery of local efforts to plan for local waste disposal needs.

In 1996, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan imported waste from ten states and Canada. Canada appears to be the major exporter in terms of volume. It is vital that any legislation empower states and affected local governments to regulate incoming out-of-country in the same way as out-of-state waste. That is why I have coauthored similar provisions in past bills.

In 1994, 35 states had laws on the books containing provisions authorizing some or all of their political subdivisions to exercise flow control authority over solid waste within their jurisdictions. Clearly, this was a recognition that the waste management facilities and programs that local or regional governments had committed to and invested in required flow control authority to ensure their continued economic viability. The Supreme Court decision, in the Carbone case, threw local government flow control plans into chaos. The Supreme Court has said Congress can pass legislation to allow local and regional governments to act. If we truly believe that state and local governments have a rational role in a federal process, then act we must.

I have been contacted by numerous counties in Michigan that are seeking reinstitution of the authority eliminated by the Supreme Court decision. Kent County issued approximately $90 million in bonds to pay for an integrated waste management facility, and depends on exercising its flow control authority to repay those bonds. Emmet County has spent millions to develop a transfer station, recycling processing facility and a household hazardous waste center. Jackson, Oscoda, Montmorency, and many other Michigan counties and cities have similar stories. Congress cannot ignore the negative effects that the Carbone decision has had on the credit ratings or the viability of investments in waste recovery facilities and programs of numerous local governments around the country.

Since the Fort Gratiot decision in 1992, I have supported the return of some measure of the original authority over waste to local governments and states. I believe these governments have the responsibility and the ability to most effectively plan for the management of solid waste. The private sector, in this case, is less concerned about the long-term environmental and safety risks imposed by the disposal of waste than the short-term economic gain they receive in obtaining cheap disposal prices. Simple price competition does not drive good planning in an area of public activity where feelings run high, and understandably so, as is the case in landfill or waste disposal facility siting and operation.

My state should not become a dumping ground dotted with landfills spilling over with waste from other states or countries that refused to actively and responsibly manage and control the generation of waste within their borders. And, that is what appears to be happening. Does Canada have less land available for landfills than Michigan?

Common sense and a decent respect for our Federal system require action now on both interstate transportation and flow control of solid waste.