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Editorial - Trash and the constitution

January 13, 1998

Editorial - Trash and the constitution

Bills passed in the late 1980s and early 1990s to discourage out-of-state garbage from being brought into West Virginia landfills were declared unconstitutional last fall by a federal judge. Now lawmakers must revisit an issue many hoped they had seen the last of.

Despite their reluctance, some action will be necessary because in September U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp ruled that the solid-waste disposal laws that bar out-of-state waste are unconstitutional because they discourage interstate commerce. The ruling also voided provisions that tie landfill site approval to a certificate of need assuring residents that the landfill is needed for local trash and not being built just as a money-making venture.

The lawmakers' challenge is to craft a bill that will pass constitutional muster without making the state the dumping ground of the East Coast.

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To that end, they've proposed that a referendum be required before construction of new Class A landfills, which accept up to 30,000 tons of solid waste per month. If the voters okayed the facility, it could open regardless of what the county's elected officials thought. But if it were rejected, landfill proponents couldn't seek another vote for at least two years. Referendums would be optional when landfills are applying for expansion or modification of their operations.

Although the state's Office of Waste Management touted landfill fees as as good source of revenue, we feel there's merit in keeping West Virginia from being overburdened from garbage from other states.

That's why we support keeping state fees at $8.25 per ton, despite arguments that it's sent haulers to dumps in other states. Let them go, we say, and preserve the state's landfill space until the time when everything else is full. At that point, rates can be hiked and the state can more than make up for what it's losing now. If West Virginia can't legally bar out-of-state garbage, it should at least get a premium price for allowing it in.

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