Support Building in House to Close Transit Waste Stations Loophole
Mindful that an arcane House procedural rule would get in his way, Rep. Chris Smith plowed on and offered an amendment to strip the Surface Transportation Board (STB) of its authority to approve waste transfer stations along rail lines.
He knows the rules, but Smith's larger goal was to generate additional support for the issue, and support he got from some heavy hitters on the other side of the aisle.
"I support the gentleman's [Smith's] effort here," said Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the powerful House Committee on Transportation which has jurisdiction over US rail policy and infrastructure. "The Surface Transportation Board has attempted to insert itself into a matter that [Smith] has very well and thoroughly described, but it is sadly mistaken in its effort to preempt State rights in this arena. So I strongly support [Smith's] amendment."
Rep. John Olver (D-MA), chairman of the Appropriation's subcommittee on Transportation and author of the bill Smith sought to amend (HR 3074) said, "I sympathize with [Mr. Smith] and Members from other affected States. My subcommittee will work with the STB to close this legal loophole ." Still referring to the House rules, Chairman Olver added "it is an authorizing issue" and said he would insist on a point of order to disallow consideration of the amendment.
To comply with the arcane rules, Smith withdrew his amendment but was pleased with the support on the substance he had garnered from the two chairmen.
"To have the Chairman of the Transportation Committee spontaneously speak on behalf of my amendment during debate on the House floor bodes well for our efforts to fix this loophole which threatens residents in Freehold in my district and throughout the country," Smith said. "Members of the STB will be reading this section of the Congressional Record closely today and they will take note that Chairman Obestar and Chairman Olver sympathize with the problems we face in Freehold and are committed to fix the loophole."
As drafted, Smith's amendment would remove the STB's authority over transfer stations and said "the Board shall consider any activity involving the receipt, delivery, sorting, handling or transfer in-transit outside of a sealed container, storage other than inside a sealed container, or other processing of solid waste to be an activity over which the Board does not have jurisdiction."
During the floor debate Smith explained that as a direct consequence of a 1995 law that created the Surface Transportation Board, solid waste transfer stations along railroads are not subject to local or State environmental laws or regulations. He called it a federal exemption that "is fraught with danger to the public and must be reversed.
"During the past several years, small rail companies, many apparently formed for the expressed purpose of securing Federal exemption from local and State regulations, have filed numerous verified notices of exemption with the STB for the purpose of establishing solid waste transfer stations along rail lines and spurs," Smith said.
He described a property in his district in Freehold Township where he said a small class 3 rail company, Ashland Railroad, has filed a verified notice of exemption with the STB to operate a 1.5 mile track for the establishment of another solid waste transfer station.
"The proposed site [in Freehold] would be situated right next to a wetlands area that poses significant hazards to the health, safety, and well-being of my constituents," Smith said during House consideration of his amendment. He noted that the wetlands feeds directly into the Manasquan Reservoir, a source of the potable water for hundreds of thousands of people in the Monmouth County and he expressed concern about prevailing winds that could impact residential housing in the immediate area.
Smith concluded, "A waste transfer station, should not be established without significant local input. Preemption voids numerous meaningful State health and safety environmental laws, including those enacted in my State. I believe that people deserve the protection of these laws and the protection that these policies do provide."
After the debate, Smith said he was pleased with the support from Obestar and Olver and will work with them to protect an amendment offered by Senator Lautenberg to the Senate version of the bill when the two bills are addressed in a House-Senate Conference.
"The key is to get support for the substance of the issue and work tirelessly to attach it to another House bill while we work to protect the Senate provision in the final version of this bill," Smith said.