The Supreme Court has been making life difficult for states that want to keep other people's trash from their landfills.
A month ago the court, reiterating an earlier position, told the state of Oregon it couldn't charge more to bury out-of-state waste than for in-state waste. In 1992 it overturned a Michigan law that kept out-of-state trash from its landfills.More recently the court ruled that Clarkstown, N.Y., couldn't prevent a local recycler from sending trash to out-of-state landfills.
In both cases, the judgment was based upon the commerce clause of the Constitution, which states that Congress, not the individual states, has the right to regulate interstate commerce.
As the court sees it, the issue is freedom of commerce within the United States unimpeded by the influence of local lawmakers favoring local commercial interests.
That is a legitimate reading of the constitutional issue - although not a unanimous one, with the court split in a 6-3 ruling in the Clarkstown case.
However, it sidesteps the problem of the interstate shipment of trash, a volatile issue that finds many states unwilling to be someone else's dumping ground. This is true whether or not the trash is hazardous.
Ohio, which receives - we won't say welcomes - 1.8 million tons of other people's garbage a year, supported the Clarkstown action. With that case lost, it behooves states to get their lawmakers in Congress up to speed and pass legislation that will permit the regulation of out-of-state trash.
At the moment, states like New York and New Jersey view the rest of the country as their private dump, and oppose any regulation.
States must be allowed to restrict the inflow of trash. At the same time, states must take some responsibility for their in-state generated waste, although obviously not all states are equally capable of doing so.
The present situation is unacceptable, however. It is a mandate for some states to evade responsibility for their waste, literally dumping their problem on someone else. It's time for Congress to act.