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Wittman's bill looks at out-of-state trash
Wittman introduces bill letting localities, state set limits on out-of-state trash

Date published: 6/12/2008


When the late Jo Ann Davis represented the 1st District in Congress, she spent years trying to pass a bill to let Virginia limit the amount of out-of-state trash imported into the state's landfills.

Now her successor, Rep. Rob Wittman, is trying again.

Wittman has introduced a bill that would allow localities and the state to set limits on the percentage of out-of-state trash that landfills can accept.

He hopes that because the bill doesn't allow the outright banning of trash imports, it won't run afoul of federal interstate-commerce law, as some of Davis' efforts did.

Former Gov. Jim Gilmore and the General Assembly passed import limits in 1999, but the courts struck them down, saying that only Congress has the power to regulate trash imports.

Virginia is the second-largest importer of out-of-state trash, with more than 7 million tons going into state landfills in 2007 alone. The King George County landfill accepts out-of-state trash.

That's big business for the trash companies, but Wittman worries that it will have an impact on the environment in the future, since landfills don't last forever.

"I think there are a lot of issues that are obviously of concern with interstate waste being treated as a commodity here in Virginia, obviously long-term safety issues and environmental concerns," Wittman said. "I think everyone realizes landfills are temporary storage. Landfills eventually will fail, but where does that leave us?"

Under Wittman's bill, local governments would be able to set rules for smaller landfills that receive less than 100,000 tons of trash annually, capping the percentage of out-of-state trash the landfill would be allowed to accept.

The state would do the same for landfills taking in more than 100,000 tons of trash.

About 45 percent of the 1.2 million tons of trash the King George landfill takes in each year comes from outside Virginia.

While the localities and the state could set caps, they couldn't set one at zero, Wittman said, because that would likely be unconstitutional.

"We're not looking to interfere with interstate commerce. We're looking to give the ability to make good long-term environmental decisions," he said.

"What we're trying to do is to keep in mind the environmental long-term interest of the state, and let the state and localities be part of that decision-making, and they just don't have that right now."

Wittman's bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It has three co-sponsors: Reps. Jim Moran, D-8th, Frank Wolf, R-10th, and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.

"I think it provides a realistic framework of states and localities to regulate out-of-state trash, based on their environmental best interests. I hope it will fare well, it's a well-thought-out bill that provides balance," Wittman said.

Chelyen Davis: 804/782-9362
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com