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Waste associations fight Michigan import bans

On October 7, 2003 the Michigan Waste Industries Association (MWIA) expressed disappointment over a package of wast...


On October 7, 2003 the Michigan Waste Industries Association (MWIA) expressed disappointment over a package of waste related bills currently moving through a state senate committee, saying the politically-motivated bills, if enacted, would do little to further Michigan’s plans for handling waste in the future and would hurt Michigan communities.

"This package of bills is fraught with a number of problems," said MWIA President Dan Batts. "Not only is it unconstitutional and unlikely to withstand legal challenges, but enactment will result in higher trash bills for Michigan citizens, diminish competition for waste disposal and exacerbate an already challenging illegal dumping problem."

The bills aim to address recent controversy over the importation of trash from neighboring states and Ontario. Many, including the MWIA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in a recently released report, have indicated that imported waste does not pose concerns for long-term landfill capacity or environmental or public health protections. Imported waste, which makes up less than 20 percent of all waste disposed in Michigan landfills, is comprised of much the same waste materials that Michigan generated waste contains; regulations on wastes are generally consistent across the Great Lakes states and in Ontario.

The MWIA has consistently cautioned lawmakers about enacting laws that contradict constitutional provisions. Waste is protected as an item of commerce, and is transported across jurisdictions under free trade agreements. Attempts by other states to pass laws similar to those under consideration by the Michigan Legislature have been rejected by the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Proposed legislation would make it illegal for landfills to accept a long list of items currently allowed in safe levels in landfills, but provides no alternative disposal facilities for residents or communities.

Currently, when a homeowner wants or needs to get rid of a scrap tire, for example, waste haulers can relieve the homeowner of the item and dispose of it in the landfill. Under the proposed legislation, residents of many Michigan communities would have to call a community resource center or the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to find out where an appropriate disposal site is located, and then take the item themselves to a disposal facility.

The lack of alternative disposal sites also poses a problem for small "mom and pop" waste haulers who dispose of their loads at regulated landfills.

"Landfill operators will not want to shoulder the liability or stiff fines associated with accepting trash loads that might contain a beverage bottle or two," says Mr. Batts. "We’ll simply have no choice than to quit doing business with these smaller waste haulers. Unfortunately, that will put them out of business and that leads to fewer choices for consumers."

"This is an unnecessary burden for Michigan families to bear, and certainly will not address the future disposal needs of Michigan. If lawmakers are going to ban certain items from the landfill, it’s incumbent on them to provide avenues for proper disposal. Absent that, more problems than solutions are created for everyone."

Meanwhile, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) announced that Judge Marianne Battani of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan has issued a preliminary injunction halting the enforcement of a Wayne County ordinance aimed at restricting out-of-state waste going to landfills located in Wayne County, Michigan. The ruling was handed down from the bench on Monday.

On September 5, 2003, the NSWMA filed a lawsuit over the recently enacted Wayne County ordinance explicitly aimed at impeding the disposal of out-of-state and Canadian-generated municipal waste in Wayne County landfills. The lawsuit challenged the ordinance because it violates a number of key provisions of the United States Constitution.

The ordinance says no landfill in Wayne County can receive waste generated from any jurisdiction outside the county that does not have a beverage container deposit law parallel to that currently in effect in Michigan. Under the new ordinance, landfill operators would be subject to substantial fines of up to $10,000 per day, as well as potential imprisonment, for violations.

"The judge examined the ordinance and saw the clear violation of Constitutional rights," said Bruce Parker, President of the NSWMA. "We regret the need to seek relief through the courts; however, we had to act to protect our members’ rights. The Framers of the Constitution adopted the Commerce Clause to encourage commerce among the states and with foreign nations. The Wayne County ordinance was clearly contradictory to this principle."

The federal judge’s action is the latest in a long line of legal rulings preserving the right to free trade under the Commerce Clause. Prior to this ruling, a federal Court of Appeals struck down a Wisconsin law similar to the Wayne County ordinance. The court rejected this law based on several of the same constitutional principles advanced in the lawsuit against Wayne County by NSWMA. Judge Battani said she will render a final written opinion on the issue within 60 days.

Contact Deborah Muchmore, Marketing Resource Group, 517-372-4400