December 2005

New Jersey coalition files order to stop unregulated waste facilities at rail yards

Newark, NJ— A coalition of 10 New Jersey local governments, municipal associations and trade groups requested the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to rule against allowing unregulated waste facilities at rail yards to continue disregarding state environmental laws. The case involves an open-air waste handling site along a railroad in North Bergen, New Jersey that is exploiting Federal transportation regulations to operate without permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Without these permits, state and local environment and health officials are unable to fully enforce regulations and rules to protect the public health and environment.

In the last year, several of these unregulated waste facilities have begun operating along rail lines in northern New Jersey and others are proposed in Atlantic and Burlington County. The owners and operators of these facilities are attempting to evade state and local permits by claiming these waste facilities are not subject to state environmental regulations since rail operations are regulated by the STB, a division of the Department of Transportation. The Declaratory Order filed asserts that waste facilities are not integral to railroad operations and therefore do not enjoy the federal preemption afforded general railroad operations.

“These companies operating these dumps are brazenly flouting federal, state, and local environmental protections and putting our families at risk. The dumps are completely open to the air. They are polluting the surrounding neighborhoods with wind-blown debris and hurting our wetlands through dangerous runoff. The trash at these sites can reach the height of a three-story building. They are horrible eyesores that are harming our environment and need to be closed” said Congressman Bob Menendez.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg is also a sponsor of federal legislation that removes the STB’s ability to approve waste sites on rail lines. “The STB has the opportunity through this Declaratory Order to set the record straight and shut down waste site operators who seek to exploit any perceived loophole in federal law. If the STB fails to grant the relief sought in this petition I am fully prepared to quickly move on federal legislation that will solve this once and for all.”

A favorable STB ruling to the Declaratory Order filed will not only restore full state control over these North Bergen sites but at sites all over New Jersey and the United States operating under the guise of STB preemption. In addition, the state’s Congressional delegation has introduced federal legislation that clarifies that rail yard waste facilities are not federally preempted under STB jurisdiction and insures state and local control over all waste facilities for the protection of public health and the environment.

Bill Dressel, executive director the NJ League of Municipalities, says, “This Declaratory Order seeks to clarify whether the Department of Transportation truly believes it retains jurisdiction over waste stations instead of state and local authorities. Of course, we believe they do not have jurisdiction, but if they rule that they do then we’ll work very diligently with our elected officials in Washington to ensure passage of federal legislation to change that once and for all to protect our citizens, communities and environment.”

The municipal and industry coalition includes the City of Newark, Burlington County, Hainesport, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey League of Municipalities, the Solid Waste Association of North America, the US Conference of Mayors, the Integrated Waste Services Association, the Construction Material Recyclers’ Association, and the National Solid Wastes Management Association who argue that these facilities not only harm the environment but also provide an unfair business advantage to operators who run facilities without the required environmental permits and licenses.

The STB is expected to rule on the Declaratory Order within five to seven months.


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