RL33720 - Imports of Canadian Waste
4-Feb-2008; James E. McCarthy; 10 p.
Update: Previous releases:
November 8, 2007
March 16, 2007
Abstract: Private waste haulers and Canadian cities – including the city of Toronto – ship large quantities of waste to the United States. More than four million tons (as many as 400 truckloads a day) were shipped in 2005, according to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Three-quarters of this waste goes to two large landfills near Detroit.
The influx of waste has been highly controversial, in part because the ability of state and local governments to restrict it is limited. Under court rulings concerning the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, only Congress can authorize restrictions that discriminate against foreign waste. Thus, for several years, the state of Michigan and the Michigan congressional delegation have pressed Congress for action. Legislation to provide limited authority to restrict waste imports, H.R. 518, was introduced early in the 110th Congress by Representative Dingell, with the cosponsorship of the entire Michigan delegation. The bill was reported by the Energy and Commerce Committee March 29, and passed the House, by voice vote, April 24, 2007.
Congress began to focus on this issue in the summer of 2006. In July of that year, in the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill (H.R. 5441), the Senate approved the establishment of an inspection program for waste imports that might have added more than $400 in fees to the cost of importing a truckload of waste. In early September, the House passed legislation similar to H.R. 518 (H.R. 2491 in the 109th Congress), which would have given states limited authority to restrict waste imports. In between these actions, an agreement was reached between Michigan’s two Senators and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, under which Ontario will eliminate shipments of municipally managed waste to Michigan by the end of 2010.
The steps taken by Congress in beginning to move legislation, as well as separate legislation enacted by the state of Michigan, clearly played a role in bringing about the voluntary agreement between Michigan’s two Senators and Ontario. But large issues remain. The agreement is not a treaty or an international agreement, so it does not formally bind the United States or Canada or the parties shipping and receiving the waste. Assuming that its provisions are adhered to by Ontario’s waste managers, it still would not address two-thirds of the waste being shipped to Michigan (i.e., the waste being managed by private waste management firms), and it would not affect waste shipments to states other than Michigan.
This report provides background information on the history of Canadian waste imports, reviews congressional developments, and discusses issues raised by the voluntary agreement and legislation.