Senate OKs States' Oversight of Rail Waste Sites

The U.S. Senate has passed legislation that would allow states to regulate solid waste processing facilities along rail lines.

Based on U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg's Clean Railroads Act of 2007, the railroad waste legislation targets a loophole in federal law that prohibits states from enforcing environmental, health, and safety regulations at these rail sites. This loophole has allowed railroad companies to pile trash, largely consisting of construction debris, which can cause serious health and environmental risks to residents who live near these sites.

Courts have ruled that the only agency that can oversee rail waste sites is the federal Surface Transportation Board; however, the board does not actively regulate them. No federal safety or environmental standards exist, and the agency has no inspectors. In fact, the board has prevented any state from regulating rail solid waste sites within their borders, including 22 current or proposed ones in New Jersey.

The House version of the rail waste legislation was written by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Now, the House and Senate must resolve their differences in the larger rail safety bills before finalizing the legislation and sending it to the President for signature.

The Senate Appropriations Committee already had approved an extension of a temporary measure authored by Lautenberg to allow New Jersey to begin to regulate some solid waste processing facilities on railroads. The measure was included in a one-year spending bill for transportation and housing programs and became effective in January but expires after September.

Featured Webinar