OCTOBER 2009

Coalition files lawsuit seeking to overturn cap on Solano County trash imports

A coalition of more than twenty waste hauling and recycling companies filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to declare invalid a Solano County, California, ballot initiative believed to be unconstitutional by coalition members and Solano County leaders.

“More than twenty years ago Solano County leaders recognized that this ordinance restricting movement of waste across county lines is illegal under federal law, and the coalition is seeking to secure a court ruling to put this issue to rest,” said Ron Mittelstaedt, chief executive officer and chairman of Waste Connections, Inc. “Measure E threatens the future of safe, efficient and environmentally sound management of regional municipal solid waste.” Mittelstaedt concluded.

The coalition’s complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, challenges as unconstitutional the 1984 measure that imposed an annual cap of 95,000 tons – a small fraction of current waste volumes – on the amount of solid waste that may enter Solano County from other jurisdictions for landfill disposal. The initiative, known as “Measure E,” was approved by Solano County voters nearly 25 years ago in the November 6, 1984 election.

Solano County has never enforced Measure E, and issued a memorandum concluding that the 1984 initiative is unconstitutional under United States Supreme Court precedent. Measure E discriminates against out-of-county waste, in violation of the United States Constitution’s protection of free movement of interstate commerce. Measure E does not impose limits on the disposal of in-county waste at Solano County landfills. The Legislative Counsel of California reached the same conclusion, writing in a 1992 Opinion that “Measure E, adopted by the voters of Solano County, violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”

The coalition points in particular to the potential impacts of Measure E on the Potrero Hills Landfill, which is vital to satisfying the Bay Area’s solid waste disposal needs. If Measure E is enforced, communities across Northern California will pay much higher prices for waste disposal as they search for alternative sites across California and in neighboring states, according to the coalition’s Complaint.

Measure E also undercuts a federal court order that the United States Department of Justice and California Attorney General Jerry Brown obtained earlier this year directing that the Potrero Hills Landfill be sold to maintain competition in the solid waste industry in Northern California.

The coalition is filing suit in Federal court to ratify the County’s longstanding belief in the unconstitutionality of Measure E in response to special interest groups and local activists seeking to compel enforcement of Measure E in order to drastically limit the Landfill’s capacity.

The coalition members bringing suit represent much of the waste hauling and recycling industry in Northern California, including Potrero Hills Landfill, BLT Enterprises of Sacramento, Brentwood Disposal Service, Concord Disposal Service, Contra Costa Waste Service, Discovery Bay Disposal, El Dorado Disposal Service, Novato Disposal Service, Oakley Disposal Service, Pacific Coast Disposal Corporation, Pittsburg Disposal and Debris Box Service, Redwood Empire Disposal, Rio Vista Sanitation Service, Rohnert Park Disposal, Santa Rosa Recycling and Collection, Sunrise Garbage Service, Timber Cove Recycling, Waste Connections, West Sonoma County Disposal Service, West Sonoma County Transfer and Windsor Refuse and Recycling.