TRENTON – The State Senate voted today to approve SR-14, a resolution sponsored by Senator Nicholas Sacco which calls on Congress to pass the “Solid Waste Environmental Regulation Clarification Affecting Railroads Act of 2005” (S. 1607) to address the unregulated sorting and processing of waste materials at rail facilities.
“While regulation of the railroads is the purview of Congress, we can no longer sit idly by while the railroads set up environmentally dangerous trash transfer stations near our residential neighborhoods,” said Senator Sacco, D-Bergen and Hudson. “There is no reason for transfer stations located on railroad property to be held to a different standard than those located elsewhere. The potential health and environmental risk is the same.”
The federal bill, S. 1607, was proposed by Senator Frank Lautenberg and former Senator and current Governor Jon Corzine to close loopholes that have been exploited by freight rail companies to operate waste transfer stations outside of state and local control. Under the preemption clause of the 1995 Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, a waste transfer station near a railway does not have to obtain permits normally required and issued by state and local authorities. Municipalities affected by these waste transfer stations have argued that when the health of local residents are directly at risk, the State should be able to enforce health and environmental regulations.
“These transfer stations pose a real threat to the people of North Bergen,” said Senator Sacco, who is also the Mayor of North Bergen. “We know that they are storing toxic chemicals and that they are doing it in a dangerous and irresponsible manner. But federal law needs to be amended before we can take the reasonable action needed to protect the health and safety of local residents.”
North Bergen currently has five waste transfer stations controlled by New York Susquehanna & Western Railway (NYS&W). Three of the waste transfer sites have been found to be in violation of state environmental regulations. The waste transfer sites in North Bergen have large debris piles that in most cases are not enclosed and are exposed to the environment leading to unhealthy air conditions and runoff into wetlands and potentially the drinking water. The State found thousands of pounds of phosphorus pentasulfide being stored outside at one of the sites. The chemical gives off toxic fumes that can potentially catch fire or explode upon contact with water.
The State fined NYS&W $2.5 million for assorted violations, but the company has refused to pay and has sued the State over its attempt to regulate the sites. The State counter sued arguing its right to protect the health and safety of its citizens is paramount. The judge in both cases has so far stayed the fines and allowed the facilities to continue operating while NYS&W moves to enclose some of the waste transfer sites and phase out others.
The resolution passed the Senate by a voice vote. It will now be filed with the Secretary of State.