In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that state governments could not prevent waste management companies from importing garbage across state lines. That has upset residents in states like Michigan, who complain that hundreds of trucks are hauling garbage into their state every day. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, a Michigan congressman is using a new tactic in his battle to stop the imports:
In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that state governments could not prevent waste management companies from importing garbage across state lines. That’s upset residents in states like Michigan, who complain that hundreds of trucks are hauling garbage into their state every day. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, a Michigan congressman is using a new tactic in his battle to stop the imports:
Last year, 3.6 million tons of garbage were imported into Michigan landfills. That equals about a football field of garbage piled a mile high. Half of that waste came from Canada on the more than 160 trucks that cross the U.S.-Canada border every day. That number is expected to increase to 250 a day when the city of Toronto begins exporting all of its waste into Michigan at the end of the year. Michigan congressman John Dingell says the rise in garbage imports has angered his constituents.
“I am outraged that the amount of trash from Canada is going to increase above the 150 percent increase that it’s already undergone in the last few years and I’m troubled that our government is not protecting our cities and states from unwanted trash coming in from other countries.”
For several years, Dingell has introduced legislation in the House to give states more control over trash imports, but it has never passed. So, he’s trying a new tactic. His staff discovered a 1986 agreement signed between the U.S. and Canada, which requires both countries to notify the other of hazardous waste imports. It’s called the Agreement between Canada and the U.S. Concerning the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste. And it was amended in 1992 to include notification of nonhazardous waste imports, or garbage. Once notified, the recipient country has 30 days to respond, approve or reject the shipments. Canada and the U.S. do notify each other about shipments of hazardous waste. But Dingell says garbage continues to cross the border unnoticed.
“The Canadians have not once notified the U.S. nor has the U.S. questioned this oddity. Quite frankly, it’s outrageous that it has not taken the steps necessary to control the handling of this waste from Canada under an effective administrative process now in place.”
However, officials at Environment Canada contend they are complying with the treaty. They point to a clause that states the agreement is contingent upon both countries passing legislation that creates a notification system. Joe Wittwer of Environment Canada says they are only now in the process of creating those regulations.
“I think both Canada and the U.S. take this agreement seriously. And I don’t think you can fault either country for not notifying right now because both countries need to put the appropriate regulations in place before this notification mechanism can be implemented.”
In order to achieve that in Canada, Wittwer says the regulations were included in an overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which was completed in 1999. The revisions took 11 years.
Now, Environment Canada is developing draft regulations on garbage imports, which will soon be made available for public comment. It expects the new notification tracking system will become law sometime in 2003. But Congressman Dingell says it shouldn’t have taken 10 years to implement such a system. He maintains the Canadian government is ignoring its obligations and he’s asking the EPA to step in.
“I’ve sent a letter to the administrator of the EPA demanding that administrator insist that no more Canadian trash or hazardous waste be permitted into the U.S., until both the states affected and the local units of government have agreed to that importation.”
The agreement doesn’t give state governments veto power over garbage shipments. But Dingell says EPA Administrator Christine Whitman could grant them that power – enabling residents of border states to stop the flow of garbage into their communities. EPA officials say they’re considering the request.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly in Ottawa.