Trashing New Yorkers, Trashing Solutions

Trashing New Yorkers, Trashing Solutions

January 26, 1999
Originally published in The Arlington Journal

 

Some Virginia lawmakers say they are going to "save" state residents from New York City dumping its trash in the Old Dominion. They're considering banning barges that carry trash imports to Virginia via water routes, setting limits on landfill expansions, and possibly raising taxes on landfill disposal fees. But what exactly are they saving residents from? Landfills bring jobs, economic growth, and all the quality-of-life benefits that free enterprise generates.

The fact that people want a better quality of life shouldn't be surprising, but it is to Virginia House Speaker Thomas W. Moss Jr., D-Norfolk.

"Some localities actually want it," Moss says about waste imports, because they see it as "an economic boon." But the Speaker says he knows better. "I think it's an unwise way to help the economy," he told the Washington Post.

Not all legislators agree. Del. A. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, who represents a portion of Charles City County, welcomes the economic benefits of that county's landfill, which he notes meets "state-of-the-art" environmental standards.

He says the landfill enabled the community to build three top quality schools, a park and a recreation center, and even cut taxes by more than 30 percent.

Many residents in Charles City County appreciate these benefits as well. At recent public hearings, residents pleaded with public officials to leave these decisions up to local communities, rather than initiate a paternalistic statewide policy. Quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Ed Baber, a resident of Charles City County lamented, "Why hurt the best economic opportunity Charles City ever had?"

But if communities want the jobs and the economic benefits of landfill business; why should Virginia lawmakers and do-gooder activists stop them? Some say that they want to keep New York's trash out to prevent "environmental racism," which allegedly entails siting environmentally hazardous industrial plants and waste disposal facilities near low-income and minority communities. But it's not racist to allow people in these communities to make decisions for themselves.

If there is a problem with hate mongering, it's coming from the other direction. Xenophobic rhetoric abounds, suggesting that New Yorkers produce trash that is somehow dirtier and more dangerous than anyone else's.

Del. McEachin recognizes the need for a more practical approach and he's working on a bill to address landfill leakage problems associated with 30 landfills in Virginia that are exempt from environmental standards.

Anyone concerned about environmental quality and the challenges facing low-income communities should be up in arms about all these efforts to ban solutions. Consider the proposals to ban the use of garbage barges that transport waste to Virginia via water routes.

It takes about 300 trucks to transport the amount of trash that one barge carries. Hence, the barge ban could increase the number of trucks on the road transporting waste. As a -result, people in these communities may have to deal with more traffic, more noise, and more air pollution coming from the trucks.

Of course, even with more trucks, this less-efficient system would likely reduce waste flows to Virginia landfills, reducing the tax revenue to any of the low-income communities and pushing people further into poverty.

Similarly, proposed tax increases on landfill_ tipping fees would raise the costs of trash disposal further, exacting another blow on these communities.

But many lawmakers simply don't understand these realities. "If out-of-state trash is such a good thing, why doesn't New York State keep it there?" Moss asks. "They have as much open land as we do."

It's basic economics, Mr. Speaker. Land in New York is more expensive because higher populations have more land needs. Operating landfills there will raise costs for residents and reduce their quality of life.

Transporting waste to Virginia, on the other hand, reduces costs for residents in New York and raises living standards in Virginia, where private firms can put to good use the state's more abundant supply of lower-priced land.

The issue comes down to free trade, the benefits of which the founders recognized when they included the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, which is designed to prevent states from impeding interstate commerce. McEachin calls attempts to ban waste going to Charles City County "a blatant disregard for the U.S. Constitution," and he's right.