Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, Inc.
last revised 7/29/06
DEC Proposal to Exempt Waste-by-Rail from Regulation

New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is proposing revised regulations governing landfills, waste transfer stations and other solid waste management facilities.  However, proposed subsection 362-2.3(c) would exempt from any state regulation transfer stations operated by a rail carrier.

This proposed change accomodates a new scheme by waste management companies under which the company would acquire a rail line or segment of a rail line serving a transfer station for garbage, industrial and other wastes. This scheme has surfaced recently in Croton-on-Hudson, where a waste company has asserted that federal rail regulations supercede the Village's power to regulate garbage and supercede all state laws governing waste management facilities.

Whether this scheme is legal is currently being tested in the courts, thanks to opposition by the local village trustees in Croton-on-Hudson. The scheme seems questionable at best because the federal rail regulations never contemplated exemptions for specific industries from health and safety protections just because the industry makes use of a rail line.

Indeed, Waste Management, Inc.'s massive waste-by-rail system (also largely proposed) would be given a pass from both state and local regulation of garbage. This could open the floodgates to new waste management facilities designed to feed landfills, and substantially set back markets for recycling and reuse.

That's because such facilities would become much cheaper to build and operate in the absence of environmental regulations and oversight, diverting more and more materials to transfer stations and related landfills. Most commercial landfills are part of a larger company that owns trash haulers and a landfill in the local region. By "vertically integrating," the corporate parent gains control over the entire regional waste market and can charge rates much higher than it would be able to in it operated in a competititve market. Another benefit of vertical integration is each subsidiary--the haulers, the transfer stations, and the landfill--can avoid liability for the sins of its siblings, as can the corporate parent.

Often, municipalities that contract with a local hauler and/or transfer station don't understand those business and the landfill are part of the same company. When the contract is up for renewal the hauler or transfer station operator tells the municipality it has to chanrge more because the landfill is charging more. That's just hiding the fact that each component of the integrated business is charging back the higher costs to itself, and draining more and more resources from localities without any real increase in the cost of doing business.

Concerned citizens should write the DEC before July 31 and say there is no reason to exempt transfer stations on rail lines from the environmental protections with which everybody else has to comply. Click here for links to the proposed regulations and information on where to write send comments, along with comments explaining the problem in depth already submitted by Croton-on-Hudson.

Letters from Massachusetts and Ohio