Senate Passes Measure To Allow States to Regulate Waste Rail Stations

Date: September 13, 2007

Source: News Room

Senate Passes Lautenberg Temporary Measure On Solid Waste Rail Stations

Bill Draws White House Veto Threat As Bush Opposes Letting New Jersey Regulate Pollution On Sites

Yesterday, the Senate passed a temporary measure authored by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) to allow New Jersey to regulate some solid waste processing facilities on railroads. The measure was included in a one-year spending bill for transportation and housing programs which expires after one year. Currently, a loophole in federal law prevents the state from enforcing environmental, health and safety regulations at these sites. New Jersey wants to regulate these facilities after finding fire hazards, groundwater contamination and debris in local neighborhoods.

"President Bush sided with the railroad companies, but ultimately the Senate approved my measure to protect the health and safety of New Jersey's communities. We need to be able to protect ourselves from the environmental and safety hazards caused by the piles of waste sitting on these sites. New Jersey residents deserve better than to have potential health hazards in their backyards," Sen. Lautenberg said.

In response to the Senate action, the White House issued a statement threatening to veto the bill and objected specifically to the Lautenberg provision: "The Administration also objects to allowing States to regulate solid waste stored along rail property, preempting authority granted to the Surface Transportation Board. A multiplicity of standards across States would create confusion for stakeholders and potentially create an undue burden on interstate commerce." (cite:

Courts have ruled that the only agency that can oversee rail waste sites is the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), which has taken a piecemeal approach to making decisions about whether or not a waste transfer station can be allowed to operate. No federal safety or environmental standards exist and the agency has no inspectors. In fact, the board has prevented any state from regulating rail solid waste sites within their borders, including 22 in New Jersey. Last month, the STB denied permission for a waste transfer site in Freehold, New Jersey to operate. However, the decision was based on an incomplete application. The STB Commissioner himself went to Freehold to announce the denied application.

The garbage piles at these rail waste sites can reach two stories high and pose a serious health and environmental risk to New Jerseyans who live near these sites.

The Lautenberg temporary provision would expire in one year, but would give sufficient time for Congress to pass permanent legislation, such as the Clean Railroads Act of 2007 (S.719), which is sponsored by Sen. Lautenberg, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and three other senators. This bill would change federal law permanently to give New Jersey the ability to regulate these sites. Sen. Lautenberg expects the Clean Railroads Act of 2007 to be considered by the Senate Commerce Committee in September.

Sen. Lautenberg serves as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Safety, Security, and Infrastructure. The Senator's subcommittee has jurisdiction over railroad issues and oversees the confirmation of STB Commissioners.

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