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Public Statements

Solid Waste Issues

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


House Energy and Commerce Committee - Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials

I want to thank Chairman Gillmor and Ranking Member Solis for holding this hearing. This is an extremely important issue not just for Michigan but many other states. I look forward to working with all the Committee members on this important issue. I would also like to thank Congressman Dingell for his leadership on this issue. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of the S. 199, the Senate companion bill to Congressman Dingell's bill, H.R. 411. I have also introduced, S. 383, the Canadian Waste Import Ban of 2003, which is based on the same principles as H.R. 411. I am also pleased that H.R. 411 has strong support on this committee, and I want to thank Congressman Stupak and Congressman Rogers for their commitment to this issue and their co-sponsorship of the bill. Last year, Michigan received almost 3.5 million tons of municipal solid waste from outside the state, more than double the amount that was imported in 1999.

This waste accounts for about one-fifth of Michigan's total trash, and gives Michigan the unpleasant distinction of being the third largest importer of waste in the United States. My colleagues may be surprised to know that the biggest source of this waste was not another state, but our neighbor to north, Canada. More than 57% of the waste that was dumped on Michigan in 2002 was from Ontario, Canada, and these imports are growing rapidly. On January 1, 2003, as another Ontario landfill closed its doors, the City of Toronto switched from dumping two-thirds of its trash, to dumping all of its trash - 1.1 million tons - to Michigan landfills. The City of Toronto is also currently in the process of finalizing a 4 year contract to ship human waste and sewage sludge to a Michigan landfill. Not only does this waste dramatically decrease Michigan's own landfill capacity, but it has a tremendous negative impact on Michigan's environment and the public health of its citizens. These trash shipments also present a threat to homeland security. Currently, 180 truckloads of waste come into Michigan each day from Canada.

These trucks cross the Ambassador Bridge and Blue Water Bridge and travel through the busiest parts of Metro Detroit. We have even received reports that trash shipments are crossing on the Soo International Bridge in the U.P. In addition to causing traffic delays, and filling our air with the stench of exhaust and garbage, these trucks also present a security risk at our Michigan-Canadian border, since by their nature trucks full of garbage are harder for Customs agents to inspect then traditional cargo.

On April 16, 2003, Sumpter Township police officers arrested the driver of a Canadian trash truck at a Michigan landfill after he had crossed the Michigan-Canadian border with more than 50 pounds of drugs inside of his truck. Additionally, Canadian trash trucks carrying radioactive materials, most likely medical waste, have been turned back at U.S. ports of entry no less than five times, and it has been reported that a trash truck containing bags of untreated blood was stopped at the Ambassador Bridge because it was literally dripping blood. Unfortunately, these incidents only represent what Customs has been able to detect and stop from crossing into Michigan.

We have addressed some of the homeland security concerns that these shipments present. The FY 2003 Supplemental Appropriations bill which was signed into law in April, included a provision that I offered as an amendment directing Customs to inspect all Canadian trash trucks that cross the Blue Water Bridge and the Ambassador Bridge, and requiring Customs to have radiation equipment in place at these ports of entry by May 2003. I will continue to fight to make our borders safer, but ultimately it is the EPA's responsibility to stop these trash shipments.

Michigan already has protections contained in an international agreement between the United States and Canada, but they are being ignored. Under the Agreement Concerning the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, which was entered into in 1986, shipments of waste across the Canadian-U.S. border require government-to-government notification. The EPA as the designated authority for the United States would receive the notification and then would have 30 days to consent or object to the shipment. To date, the EPA has not enforced these notification provisions and has never been notified of a Canadian trash shipment.

By failing to enforce this treaty, the EPA is not only failing to address the environmental, safety and public health hazards that these Canadian waste shipments present, but they are ignoring the strong opposition of the citizens of Michigan. In early June, I started an on-line petition drive on my website to ask the EPA Administrator to enforce this treaty and to stop the Canadian waste shipments. The response I have received has been truly extraordinary. More than 12,000 people signed the petition within the first 24 hours. And as of yesterday, 81,416 concerned citizens have signed my petition and that number continues to grow. To give you an idea of what that number means. 81,416 people would completely fill every seat in Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park - twice! And this is truly a state-wide issue. Residents from every county in Michigan - all 83 - have expressed their opposition to these trash shipments and signed my petition. I plan to present these petitions to the new EPA Administrator whenever he or she is nominated.

H.R. 411 would give Michigan residents the protection they are entitled to under this bilateral treaty. The bill would give the EPA the authority to implement and enforce this treaty, and it would create criteria for the EPA's determination of whether or not to consent to a shipment, including the state's views on the shipment, and the impact on landfill capacity, air emissions, public health and the environment. Given the lack of agreement on whether H.R. 382, the Solid Waste International Transportation Act, would be in violation of NAFTA, I believe that H.R. 411 provides the most immediate and effective solution to this growing Canadian trash problem. These waste shipments need to be stopped, and they have been ignored for far too long by the EPA, at the expense of the health and welfare of Michigan families.

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