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Transportation, Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Madam Chairman, in 1995 the Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, Public Law 104-88. As a direct consequence, the Surface Transportation Board created by the law is now in the business of facilitating solid waste transfer stations that are not subject to local or State environmental laws or regulations.

This Federal preemption of local environmental laws is fraught with danger to the public and must be reversed, which would be accomplished if my amendment or a similar amendment that has been proffered by Senator Lautenberg and already adopted in committee were to become law.

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. In one case in North Bergen, New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection fined the New York Susquehanna & Western Railway Corporation $2.5 million for violation only to have this year a Federal judge nullify that important State enforcement. Thus far the STB has not acted on New Jersey's complaints of health, environmental, and fire risk and concerns the State raised concerning high levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, and copper.

Now at the property in my district in Freehold, New Jersey, 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 would be situated right next to a wetlands area that poses significant hazards to the health, safety, and well-being of my constituents. This is especially important in light of the fact that the wetlands feed directly into the Manasquan Reservoir, the source of the potable water for hundreds of thousands of people in the Monmouth County area. The proposed site is also adjacent to residential housing, again raising serious concern, especially because there are many prevailing winds and other issues concerning the health and safety of those folks.

A waste transfer station, Madam Chairman, 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.

Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I yield to the gentleman from Minnesota.

Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Chairman, I support the gentleman's effort here. The Surface Transportation Board has attempted to insert itself into a matter that the gentleman 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 the gentleman's amendment.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Madam Chairman, I thank the distinguished chairman for that support.

Mr. OLVER. Madam Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I yield to my friend.

Mr. OLVER. It has been my understanding that you were going to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I understand. I thought you might be persuaded by Mr. Oberstar's very eloquent intervention, but I understand this is legislating on appropriations.

Madam Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to withdraw the amendment.


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