Major Victory in Garbage Wars!
By Tom Degen
Those of us fighting the good fight on environmental issues often get so caught up in the constant battles that it's overwhelming sometimes. It is helpful to acknowledge the victories.
On March 31, 1999, Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. of the United States Northern District Court, issued a decision that vacated almost all of his 1997 ruling that West Virginiaís solid waste laws were unconstitutional.
The tonnage caps on the size of landfills, local solid waste authority site approval, and the certificate of need requirements are now considered by Judge Stamp to pass constitutional muster. The Judge did not vacate the portion of his 1997 ruling that held the referendum on Class A landfills to be unconstitutional, but the Attorney Generalís office has indicated it will appeal that portion of the ruling.
The garbage wars started before I got active in politics, so I may have my dates wrong, but I believe the first legislation concerning local solid waste authorities was passed in 1988, over ten years ago! Every year between then and 1991, and again in 1993, major legislation was passed aimed at limiting the amount of garbage received by our beautiful state and ensuring that local communities have a say in the siting of solid waste facilities. Hundreds of people across the state worked relentlessly for those laws.
Since then, the number of court challenges to those laws could fill a history book, but there were at least three federal lawsuits claiming that West Virginiaís garbage laws violated the interstate commerce clause. Judge Stampís 1997 decision that almost every provision of the law was unconstitutional was a telling victory for the garbage industry.
In 1998, the legislature took the high road and passed legislation that removed the constitutional infirmities while keeping the major provisions of the law intact. Immediately after the bill was signed into law, the Attorney Generalís office filed a motion in Judge Stamp's court asking that he vacate his decision, based on the fact that the new legislation fixed the constitutional flaws. His March 31 decision was the result of that motion.
There are so many people to thank for this victory that there isn't space here for all their names -- I could name a hundred people, but I would probably be offending the hundreds of others who I would be leaving out. You know who you are, pat yourselves on the back and be proud, you done good!
But there are some whom we spend much time deriding that deserve thanks as well, and those are the members of the WV Legislature.
Since there is space to thank them, I would like to mention some legislators that played key roles in the 1998 legislation; Mike Buchanan, Charles Trump, Ginny Mahan, Don Macnaughtan, Jeffrey Kessler, Jon Hunter, Mike Oliverio, Larry Linch, Herb Snyder, and the Judiciary chairmen, Rick Staton and Bill Wooton.
In 1998, there was considerable pressure from the garbage industry to "fix" the legislation by getting rid of the caps, local control, and the certificate of need, thus opening the garbage floodgates. The legislative leadership responded to us, not them, and they deserve our thanks. Major environmental legislation does not pass the House and Senate unopposed, as this bill did, without the support of the House Speaker and Senate President, so Earl Ray Tomblin and Bob Kiss deserve thanks as well. We should keep in mind while we are working on issues like Blackwater Canyon and mountaintop removal that legislators are more likely to respond to our concerns when we acknowledge the good legislation that they have worked on.
Attorney General Darrell McGraw deserves thanks for his dedication to upholding our garbage laws, our support will surely help him in his appeal on the referendum. And there are three people whose names most of us have never heard that really made a difference; Joe Altizer and Rita Pauley, the Judiciary Committee counsels, and Silas Taylor, Senior Deputy Attorney General. Silas was the man in court, where the rubber meets the road, and believe me, the garbage industry runs rough treads! Silas was outnumbered and outspent every step of the way, and he put in countless hours defending our solid waste law.
As New York City prepares to close its huge landfill in 2001 and export all of its waste, mid-Atlantic states are scrambling to prepare for that, and West Virginia has the best solid waste laws of the bunch, we have good reason to celebrate!