Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Trains and Trash

Following is an editorial from The Star-Ledger (a New Jersey newspaper) posted on their web site on 1-20-08.

Trains and Trash

For years, railroad officials have been arguing that federal law pre-empts New Jersey's attempts to regulate the trackside waste transfer depots that have been popping up around the state. Finally, efforts to increase local oversight may be gathering steam.

Last month, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) inserted a provision in a federal funding bill that requires state approval before railroads can start new trash transfer operations.

Unfortunately, the Lautenberg language doesn't affect already operating transfer stations. And the state Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Paterson and a number of other communities, have serious concerns about odor, dust, stormwater runoff and other issues at the dozen or so facilities now in operation around New Jersey.

Many of those sites, including a number run by the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad, have begun taking steps to limit their impact on local communities, such as paving dusty parking lots or enclosing the tipping areas where construction waste is dropped off by trucks before being loaded onto trains headed to out-of-state landfills.

But the DEP still lacks direct oversight of these operations, thanks to a quirk in federal law that exempts railroads from significant local control.

Lautenberg, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) and others are pushing legislation that would change federal statutes so states can ensure that existing railroad transfer stations also meet reasonable health, safety and environmental standards.

Congress should make this change. It is not an issue just in New Jersey. New York, Massachusetts and several other states also are seeing rapid growth in the amount of trash moved by railroads.

Shipping trash by train can be a major public benefit because one train can remove dozens of tractor trailers from the highways. But states need to be able to make sure the transfer stations don't create new problems for local neighborhoods or those along train routes.