Date: February 11, 2008
Source: News Room
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and others are working to close the waste handling exemption for railroads. The goal is a legislative fix to make permanent a provision in the fiscal year 2008 omnibus appropriations law that prohibits the processing and transfer of solid waste at rail facilities without meeting the strict environmental requirements that normally apply to all other waste sites. Companies owning and using rail transfer facilities have claimed that they are not subject to federal, state and local environmental requirements because they can apply for exemption under language in the 1995 Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA).
The provision in the FY08 omnibus law, which was enacted on Dec. 26, was originally introduced by Lautenberg to close what he has labeled as this "loophole." Lautenberg is now looking at ways to close the loophole permanently, with one option being to amend ICCTA. Time is of the essence as rail is increasingly a more economically viable means of waste transport. The Department of Transportation's Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued its first rejection of the exemption based on the appropriations language when it denied an application for exemption by JP Rail, a small Class III railroad, to transfer construction and demolition waste from the company's New Jersey facility to a landfill in Pennsylvania.
The event is the latest salvo in an ongoing "battle fought between short-line railroads and an alliance" between the solid waste industry and state and local governments to bring short-line operations into compliance with environmental waste-handling requirements. Industry and government officials have accused some of these short-line railroad operations of being "sham" schemes created solely for the purpose of skirting expensive environmental compliance regulations. The major railroads are becoming concerned that the issue could affect the STB's exclusive jurisdiction of the rail system.