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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2004

The EPA's trash

Once should be enough. It's not like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn't been put on notice that a regulatory treaty with Canada on cross-border trash shipments must be enforced. The EPA was reminded of its responsibility last fall in no uncertain terms by Michigan Congressman John Dingell and three other Michigan lawmakers.

They had been astounded to learn the EPA had not taken any action to enforce the 1992 treaty overseeing trash shipments imported to the United States. The EPA's negligence was obviously a major concern to the Dearborn congressman, whose state receives about 200 truckloads of solid waste a day from Canada, with roughly half of it dumped in his district.

So Mr. Dingell, along with fellow Democrat Bart Stupak and Republicans Mike Rogers and Fred Upton, amended the EPA's 2004 budget last year to include a provision requiring the agency to spend $1 million enforcing the Canadian trash treaty. It says Canada must notify the EPA about each trash shipment entering the U.S. The environmental agency then has 30 days to approve or reject the material after considering its impact on the host state.

Pretty straightforward, right? Certainly Mr. Dingell's scolding of the agency during debate over its funding last year left no doubt regarding the importance of fulfilling those regulatory duties. "It is simply outrageous that the United States signed this agreement more than 11 years ago and nothing has been done to implement the notice and consent provisions laid out in a very clear manner in the agreement," he charged.

The provisions wouldn't stop the Canadian shipments from coming into Michigan but might slow them down a bit as shippers complied with regulatory hurdles. That's probably a good thing in a state where legislators have just passed a series of measures that would put a two-year moratorium on new landfills.

Yet, despite the pointed developments of the recent past, Mr. Dingell had to remind the EPA again of its oversight responsibility in monitoring trash imports. The congressman wrote a letter to refresh the memory of EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt.

This time the determined Mr. Dingell demanded proof that the agency is complying with the added mandates of the funding bill to enforce the treaty on trash imports. The lawmaker asked for a detailed account of how the money appropriated for that task is being spent.

An EPA spokesman said the agency is working on a response to the congressman's letter and insisted - without elaborating - that the agency will follow the law. That's reassuring. But why does it have to take repeated acts of Congress for the EPA to fulfil its duties and demonstrate its commitment to the environment?

One lecture should be enough.



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