Garbage used to be a strictly local problem. No more. New Jersey is now hauling garbage to landfills as far away as Kentucky--at least 550 miles from central Jersey. It's part of a plan by New Jersey Governor Tom Kean to solve his state's garbage crisis by sharing the wealth with distant neighbors. It's also clearly part of a national pattern--wealthy, urban areas are exporting their garbage (and their hazardous waste) to poorer, rural areas. Los Angeles is dumping in Arizona. New York is dumping in Vermont. But the most aggressive exporter of garbage is NJ.
States like Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky are now trying to pass laws to keep out New Jersey's trash. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Maryland, Indiana, Virginia and even North Carolina must take similar steps, unless they want to become garbage dumps for New Jersey. But it's a tricky business, legally, because of the "commerce clause" of the Constitution which says states cannot restrict interstate commerce.
It all started in 1978 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey could not ban importation of trash from Philadelphia. The decision was based on the commerce clause. This meant New Jersey could not simply refuse to take trash from another state.
When Governor Kean came to power in NJ, he faced a choice: either solve the state's garbage crisis by innovative means (recycling, composting, and other fundamental, sensible measures), which might require the electorate to modify their lifestyles slightly (curbside separation of waste, for example)--or figure out how to ship the stuff out of state. Mr. Kean chose to ship garbage out of state and to begin to build mass burn incinerators in low-income neighborhoods in every county (thus minimizing opposition while pleasing the banks and the construction trades). It's a very expensive, polluting solution but it will make the problem go away until he's out of office and that's all he really needs. He can now declare on national TV that he "solved" the NJ solid waste crisis, and he hopes this will sweep him into the vicepresidency with Mr. Bush-Dole. Mr. Kean is desperately trying to project an image as "Mr. Environment" despite his nickname among environmentalists in New Jersey, which is "Toxic Tommy." Environmental enforcement in New Jersey has all but disappeared under Mr. Kean's brand of leadership.
New Jersey's neighbors have finally caught on to the Kean strategy and have begun to try to protect themselves:
Ohio has two bills pending now; one would prohibit a landfill from accepting waste from a "service area" beyond a radius of 100 miles. The second measure would require landfills to charge $3 per ton on wastes that originate beyond the 100-mile service area. In August, 1987, Kentucky's governor signed "emergency regulations" forcing landfills to meet strict daily trash limits and allowing counties to impose "reasonable fees" on haulers who bring garbage from out of state.
West Virginia is requiring all landfills to apply for new permits and the new permits will impose monthly limits on the amount of waste a landfill can accept.
For its part, New Jersey has learned to protect itself from Philadelphia (and from New York City) trash by a state-wide planning process. Every NJ county must draw up a solid waste management plan, and each is free to exclude wastes from other counties. Because it is a "reasonable" exercise of the state's planning powers, and because it is not a blanket ban on importation of out-of-state trash, it does not conflict with the commerce clause. It is a New Jersey-invented solution to the out-ofstate trash problem.
Pennsylvania, currently the biggest receptacle for NJ garbage, is
considering passage of such a statewide planning law. New Jersey
desperately hopes they can't succeed before 1992 when New
Jersey's "mass burn" solution is supposed to be inplace. Without
poorer, rural neighbors to take its garbage, New Jersey would
have to face up to the realities of a modern lifestyle that is
not sustainable because it is destroying the earth.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: msw; landfilling; nj; ky; kean; haulers; transportation; az; ny; vt; legislation; pa; oh; wv; me; nh; de; md; in; va; recycling; composting; incineration; bush; dole; enforcement; oh; regulations;