Recently there has been much discussion, and some confusion, about what is happening in Washington D.C. that is relevant to Croton’s situation at 1A Croton Point Ave. Right now Croton is pursuing two separate strategies in Washington--one is legislative and the other is administrative. It comes down to a question of time. Can the Interstate Commerce Termination Act of 1995, which created the Surface Transportation Board (STB) be amended in time, and in such a way, that the current application of Buffalo Southern Railroad (BSOR), or any other common carrier, to receive an exemption to transfer solid waste in Croton can be ‘derailed’ before the STB makes its decision.
Because the situation is complex and an explanation is lengthy, we have divided the information about the above question into two separate articles: legislative and administrative (part 1 follows).
1. Why are we concerned about what is happening in Washington? “In a nutshell: With the establishment in 1995 of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to consolidate interstate and intrastate rail transport under one federal agency, waste haulers have developed a new tactic in an attempt to free themselves from local regulations. Once a waste transfer site is approved by the STB as part of a railroad, this federal preemption may exempt the site from meeting the state and local environmental review and permitting conditions that have been long established by the EPA and Congress as a local policy domain. The use of this loophole has expanded rapidly in recent years in the Northeast. The early results are chilling.” For more, click here.
2. What legislation is under consideration? Two companion bills introduced in both the US House of Representatives (HR-3577 with 5 co-sponsors) and the US Senate (S-1607 with 4 co-sponsors) were submitted on July 2005 and referred to the appropriate subcommittee. HR-3577 was introduced by then Representative, now Senator, Menendez (D-NJ). S-1607 was introduced by Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ). Companion bills are nearly identical bills introduced in both houses of the government. They typically stand a better chance of being enacted than solo proposals as any final legislative act must be approved by both Houses.
Both bills seek to transfer oversight of railroad transfer stations from the STB to state and local governments. The lack of such local oversight authority has resulted in disastrous waste transfer operations in New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Additionally, HR-4821 was introduced on February 28, 2006 by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) along with 6 cosponsors, including Rep. Maurice Hinchey of NY. This bill calls for the exclusion of solid waste disposal from the jurisdiction of the STB.
3. Is there any other legislation under consideration? Croton’s Congressional representative, Sue Kelly, submitted HR-4870 to the House Transportation Committee on March 2, 2006 with no – cosponsors. Six months later, after the lack of co-sponsors was raised on September 4, 2006, at Croton’s Village Board meeting, two co-sponsors signed on to the bill on Sept. 6th and Sept. 29th. Representative Kelly has not signed on as a co-sponsor of either HR-3577 or HR-4821.
HR-4870 specifically relates to Northeast Interchange Railway (NIR), another lessee at 1A Croton Point Ave. It calls for the STB to take no further action on future applications by Northeast Interchange Railways (NIR) as well as for compliance with state and local regulations. As NIR currently has no application in front of the STB, passage of this bill would have no real practical effect on our current situation with Buffalo Southern Railroad (BSOR)
4. What has the Village done to support these bills? The Village joined many other municipalities and organizations in submitting letters and documentation to support of these bills. The Village also wrote to our federal, state and local governments seeking their support of these bills. Among those organizations that are record for supporting this legislation are the US Conference of Mayors and at least three national waste industry trade groups.
5. Why is the waste industry supporting these bills? The waste industry wants a level playing field. That means that new waste handling operations should be subjected to same environmental scrutiny and local land use review as existing sites had to undergo, regardless of whether the new sites are owned by railroads or not.
Communities in which quasi-rail wastes sites are proposed, such as Croton, and legitimate solid waste firms, whose operations did invest in complying with all local regulations, both strongly disfavor such environmentally unregulated “bare bones” waste handling sites for complementary reasons.
6. When can we expect action on these bills? As of October 2006, there has been no action on either HR-3577, HR-4821 or S-1607 in either the Senate or the House beyond their referral to the subcommittees. For more information, click here. There also has been no action on the HR-4870 although hearings occurred on May 23 on the more general question of the relationship of railroads to waste hauling at which the then-Chair of the STB spoke.
The 109th Congress is close to ending. On Sept. 30th, Congress recessed until after the November elections. They will reconvene in mid-November for a few weeks in November and December. In January a new Congress, the 110th, will be in place. The outcome of the election will have a great deal to do whether the bills in committee are carried over to the next session. Those that have many co-sponsors and companion bills in the opposite chamber are more likely to remain viable. It also depends on whether the main sponsors of the bills are still in the Congress.
As to timing, unless one of these bills is passed prior to a possible STB approval of BSOR’s exemption to handle solid waste, they will be of no help to Croton’s ability to have oversight of operations at 1A Croton Point Avenue.
-- Trustee Ann Gallelli