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House Approves Pallone Amendment Giving States the Authority to Regulate Solid Waste Facilities

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC


The U.S. House of Representatives today approved an amendment offered by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Patrick Murphy (D-PA) to the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 that would give states the authority to regulate solid waste facilities. The amendment was unanimously approved by voice vote.

The New Jersey congressman said the amendment was needed to fill a so-called loophole in federal law that has been exploited by some waste handlers and railroad companies that 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. Pallone said 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.

The amendment approved by the House today allows state and local authorities to regulate solid waste management facilities by stating that the STB does not have exclusive authority to preempt state and local regulation of these facilities. It also clarifies that solid waste sorting and processing facilities are subject to federal environmental laws and are not to be recognized as "railroads," which are currently exempt from such laws.

"By approving this amendment today, the House sent a strong message that it does not want the Surface Transportation Board as the sole regulator of waste transfer facilities," Pallone said. "I'm encouraged that my colleagues agree that state and local governments should have the authority to protect their communities and the environment by regulating these facilities that have flown under the radar for too long."

Currently, more than a dozen railroad transfer facilities have been proposed or are now in operation in New Jersey, one of which handles hazardous waste. The state has tried repeatedly to impose regulations on the trash piles in an effort to protect those New Jerseyans who live and work near them.

Last February, Pallone introduced H.R. 1248, The Clean Railroads Act of 2007, in the U.S. House of Representatives that will ensure solid waste facilities next to rail lines fall under the same regulations as every other waste facility, which would allow New Jersey to regulate these facilities. Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). The amendment approved by the House today accomplishes the main points of this legislation.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for its review. Last month, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a railroad safety bill, but the full Senate has yet to act.

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