PALLONE TESTIFIES BEFORE TRANSPORTATION PANEL ON NEED TO PASS CLEAN RAILROAD ACT
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) gave the following testimony today before the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on the need to pass the Clean Railroad Act so that state and local governments have the authority to regulate waste transfer stations.
"I would first like to thank Chairwoman Brown and Ranking Member Shuster for conducting this important hearing.
"Unregulated waste transfer stations are a major issue throughout New Jersey and a looming threat to our environment and to public health. Certain waste handlers and railroad companies have tried to exploit a supposed loophole in federal law in order to set up unregulated waste transfer facilities.
"Under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) has exclusive jurisdiction over "transportation by rail carriers" and the ability to grant federal preemption over other laws at any level -- local, state, or federal -- that might impede such transportation.
"But Congress intended such authority to extend only to transportation by rail, not to the operation of facilities that are merely sited next to rail operations or have a business connection to a rail company. Unfortunately, certain companies have exploited this loophole to build or plan waste transfer stations next to rail lines and avoid any regulation.
"In New Jersey, approximately fifteen railroad waste transfer facilities have been proposed or are now operating in the state -- one of which handles hazardous waste. Some of these companies have gone before the STB to seek federal preemption of a host of environmental and public health laws that apply to every other waste transfer facility. Even without applying for specific exemptions from the STB, companies have held up the threat of federal preemption as a way of getting local and state governments to back down on proposed regulations.
"Apparently, word is spreading. Unregulated waste transfer stations have sprung up or are being proposed in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York. In all of these instances certain waste haulers are trying hard to avoid environmental regulation.
"This is unacceptable and I believe Congress must ensure that any proposed waste facilities sited near rail lines comply with the same regulations as every other facility of that type. This is critical to protecting public health and the environment throughout the country. That is why I recently introduced H.R.1248, the Clean Railroads Act of 2007. Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced a companion bill in the Senate. This simple bill amends the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act to say that solid waste management and processing are excluded from the jurisdiction of the STB.
"Companies should no longer be allowed to use this loophole to get around state and local regulations. My legislation will give States the authority to regulate these waste transfer stations, so that we can protect both the environment and the health of area residents. We must ensure that solid waste facilities follow the rules and do not pollute pristine open space, and do all that we can to protect our environment from unregulated facilities.
"Imagine for a moment, six stories of waste sitting next to a rail line in your own community with no oversight from the State or local authorities. It's a possibility that's all too real today, but can be remedied with the passage of the Clean Railroad Act.
"At this time I would like to recognize some of the people who have been fighting this issue at the ground level in New Jersey:
* Monmouth County Freeholder Barbara McMorrow
* Mullica Township Mayor Kathy Chasey
* Mr. Wolfgang Skacel the Assistant Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
* And finally Mr. Thomas Marturano from the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
"Again, thank you Chairwoman Brown and Ranking Member Shuster. I apologize for having to leave before hearing from the witnesses but I have an important markup in another committee."