Major railroad owners and the solid waste industry have petitioned the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) to modify the federal preemption that allows railroads to operate waste facilities near rail lines without following state and local waste laws.
Railroad owners requested that the STB create a threshold for small railroads to meet before being granted preemption status. They argue that many small railroads are sham operations; small railroads created only for the purpose of establishing a waste facility exempted from state and local waste laws.
The waste industry would like the STB to go further. They are asking, in addition, that all railroad waste stations be used only as transfer stations and not for extraction, segregation and shredding activities. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) may go even further, depending on what the STB does in a pending decision. He has introduced a bill that would remove the preemption altogether.
The push comes as Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), is threatening to move ahead with legislation to close a legal loophole in federal transportation law that currently allows the exemptions for all rail operations. At issue are a number of waste transfer stations that are owned by, and located at, rail facilities, particularly in the Northeast, where solid waste is sorted and processed before being loaded onto trains for disposal or recycling in other states. New Jersey exports nearly 40 percent of its waste to other states.
The waste industry claims that exemption gives the rail companies an unfair competitive advantage, is potentially harmful to the environment, and hurts the industry’s reputation for responsible management practices.
Rail transfer facilities claim they are not subject to such waste laws because they are exempt under the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA). The 1995 law deregulated much of the shipping industry by abolishing the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) that oversaw shipping transportation in the United States for more than a century. Some remaining functions of the ICC were transferred to the STB, which is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).