Manassas Journal Messenger | Trashed

Barges on the James River are seldom a worry for folks living in Northern Virginia. But when those barges contain tons of garbage, people tend to take notice.

This is especially true when it was recently revealed that the state committee charged with regulating the flow of out-of-state trash violated state sunshine laws when its members met behind closed doors before approving new (read weak) regulations on garbage imports.

Since Virginia’s ban on garbage imports was overturned by the Supreme Court four years ago, state officials have been looking for ways to safely regulate this form of “interstate commerce.”

It was revealed this week that the state Waste Management Board met behind closed doors to draft such regulations before reemerging to make a quick vote, despite hundreds of complaints submitted by state residents. This flaunting of the sunshine laws is offensive but so is the board’s final decision.

Garbage barges loaded down with trash from New York and other states will only be assessed a fee of $1 per ton as they float up the James River toward Virginia’s “Trash Port” in Charles City County.

The state is only charging $1 per ton for out-of-state garbage, yet Gov. Mark Warner was all too willing to propose a $5 tipping fee at all state landfills a year ago. Even locally owned landfills, like Prince William’s, would have been affected, even though ours is supported by an annual $70 trash tax paid by local residents.

Pennsylvania – the only state that imports more trash than Virginia – charges $7.25 per ton of imported garbage.

Charging the likes of Waste Management Inc. a higher fee for dumping its garbage on Virginia could have raised a significant amount of cash for the commonwealth. This money could have sustained solid waste inspectors for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. This money could have also gone to a number of programs designed to foster our environmental wellbeing including the protection of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

It seems that state regulators are afraid of offending the big trash companies with higher import fees. A fee that’s too high, some worry, could spawn another lawsuit complaining that Virginia is impeding interstate commerce.

There may be some truth to that claim, but a measly $1 per ton is blatant low-balling by the state Waste Management Board. Charging a higher fee and risking another lawsuit would have been a noble endeavor. With no help coming from Congress on this issue, the state Waste Management Board had an opportunity to stand up to the big trash companies. But this opportunity was squandered.

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