Senate passes legislation to clean up railway waste
In August, the Senate passed legislation authored by
United States Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) to allow
states to regulate solid waste processing facilities
along rail lines. It was included as part of larger rail
safety legislation also sponsored by Lautenberg.
The rail waste legislation is based on Lautenberg’s Clean
Railroads Act of 2007, which targets a loophole in federal
law that prohibits states from enforcing environmental,
health and safety regulations at these rail sites. This
loophole has allowed railroad companies to pile trash,
largely consisting of construction debris, at times two
stories high, that can cause serious health and environmental
risks to residents who live near these sites.
“Our backyards should not become junkyards for industry.
Our towns and cities need to be able to protect their
communities from fire hazards and pollution caused by
waste on rail sites,” Sen. Lautenberg said.
Courts have ruled that the only agency that can oversee
rail waste sites is the federal Surface Transportation
Board (STB); however, the Board does not actively regulate
them. 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 current or proposed
ones in New Jersey.
Lautenberg’s Clean Railroads Act of 2007, which was cosponsored
by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would make regulation
of these sites permanent. The House version of the rail
waste legislation was written by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06).
Now, the House and Senate must resolve their differences
in the larger rail safety bills before finalizing the
legislation and sending it to the President for signature.
Also in August, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved
an extension of a temporary measure authored by Sen.
Lautenberg to allow New Jersey to begin to regulate some
solid waste processing facilities on railroads. The measure
was included in a one-year spending bill for transportation
and housing programs and became effective in January,
but expires after 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.