Two big decisions
Two April U.S. Supreme Court decisions are being hailed as victories for state and local governments nationwide. In one, the high court decided that local governments can enact flow control ordinances directing waste to their facilities, and in the other, the court ruled that the federal government has the authority to regulate certain automobile emissions.
In the April 30 decision in United Haulers Association, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, the court ruled that ordinances in two central New York counties that require haulers to deliver waste collected in those jurisdictions to a publicly owned site do not discriminate against interstate commerce because they treat all private businesses equally. The case stems from a waste association lawsuit against Oneida and Herkimer counties that claimed the counties’ flow control laws prevented haulers from using cheaper facilities out of state.
The ruling distinguishes between when a local government says that haulers must bring waste to one of its facilities and when it orders haulers to take garbage to a site owned by a private firm. “What the court said is, ‘It’s permissible under the Commerce Clause for local governments to designate their facilities as exclusive’” destinations for waste, says Barry Shanoff, general counsel for the Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America, which represents public solid waste authorities.
The decision is a striking contrast to the 1994 court ruling in C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Clarkstown that struck down Clarkstown, N.Y.’s law requiring haulers to take the city’s waste to a privately owned transfer station, saying that it discriminated against interstate commerce. “Our waste system was founded on flow control ordinances,” says Jim Warner, executive director of the Lancaster County, Pa., Solid Waste Management Authority. With this decision, “there couldn’t be anything that is a better help to us,” he says.
In the other April ruling, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the court found that the EPA has the authority to regulate certain automobile emissions under the Clean Air Act. The case started when Massachusetts and 11 other states sued the federal government for not regulating automobile emissions of four greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.
The decision “will undoubtedly benefit every American city from coast to coast,” U.S. Conference of Mayors Executive Director Tom Cochran said in a statement. “We are glad the EPA has been granted the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases because they are an important piece towards solving the climate protection puzzle, and [we] hope that the federal government will provide long overdue resources.”
The ruling paves the way for state and local governments to move forward on efforts to curb emissions of the gases. “This opinion is important for national and local climate change policy,” states a report from Washington-based Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “Not only does it open the door to regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, but is also likely to catalyze calls for more comprehensive federal climate change legislation.”
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.