Feds Urged to Regulate Solid Waste Along Rail Lines
A loophole in federal law allows piles of garbage 20 feet high to accumulate along rail lines across the country. The trash, mostly construction debris that can include elevated levels of arsenic and mercury, is kept at sites along rail lines before being shipped to landfills in other states.
The federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) has been asked to regulate this practice by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over railroad issues and oversees the confirmation of STB board members.
“Unregulated waste facilities, whether on a rail line or not, are bad for our communities,” the senator said. “States like New Jersey need the ability to regulate them to protect the health and safety of their residents–and it’s critical for the Board to act today to make sure states have those rights.”
Lautenberg and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, have sponsored the Clean Railroads Act of 2007 to close the federal loophole and allow New Jersey and other states to regulate solid waste facilities on rail property for environmental, health, and safety reasons. The case before the Surface Transportation Board concerns an attempt by New England Transrail, a New Jersey company, to assert that it can operate a solid waste processing facility along rail lines in Massachusetts without abiding by pertinent regulations because it is in effect a railroad and therefore subject only to the STB and not state regulators.
The Board will determine if it has jurisdiction over solid waste processing. If it does not, jurisdiction would then fall to the states.
This has been a priority issue for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which is trying to clean up the Meadowlands–32 square miles covering the Hackensack River and its marshes and 14 municipalities in Bergen and Hudson counties. The area was viewed as a dumping ground for years until the commission over the last three years has revitalized formerly blighted areas and preserved 8,400 acres of wetlands and open space.
New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner said the case has far-reaching implications for New Jersey and other states. “If the federal government continues to allow solid waste facilities to disguise themselves as railroads so that states are preempted from regulating them, it will undermine our ability to police the industry, and to keep undesirable elements–including organized crime–out of the industry,” said Rabner.