April 30, 2007, by
In a ruling issued today, the U.S. Supreme Court found that county ordinances requiring that solid waste in two counties be processed at a publicly-owned transfer station did not discriminate against interstate commerce. The case, United Haulers Ass'n, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, arose from two separate U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit decisions in which the Court ruled that:
1) the counties' ordinances requiring that solid waste in the two counties be processed at a publicly-owned transfer station did not discriminate against interstate commerce (United Haulers Ass'n, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Auth., 261 F.3d 245 2d Cir. 2001); and
2) the counties' ordinances were valid under the Pike balancing test (United Haulers Ass’n, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Auth., 438 F.3d 150 2d Cir. 2005).
Oneida and Herkimer County ordinances required that the garbage generated by local households and businesses within the counties be delivered to one of several waste processing facilities owned by the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, a public corporation, thereby preventing the garbage from being processed at non-local facilities. The Authority charged a per-ton tipping fee for receiving waste, a fee that was apparently significantly higher than the fees charged on the open market elsewhere in the state. However, the counties did not exclude private commercial entities from other aspects of the local market for waste disposal: the ordinances expressly allowed any licensed private entity, whether local or non-local, to collect solid wastes from area businesses and households for delivery to the Authority's processing facilities. Through an open bidding process, the Authority periodically selected a private hauler to transport processed wastes/recyclables from its facilities for delivery to other locations.
Several solid waste management companies and an association representing their interests brought a Section 1983 action against the counties and the Authority, claiming that the ordinances regulating the collection, processing, transfer, and disposal of all solid waste within the counties violated the Commerce Clause. They specifically stated that as long as private entities were permitted to collect garbage from customers, they could not be required to deliver that waste to an in-state facility.
On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit's decisions and upheld the ordinances noting that this case presented "flow control ordinances quite similar to the one invalidated in [C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Clarkstown, 511 U. S. 383 (1994)]. The difference being that the laws at issue here require haulers to bring waste to facilities owned and operated by a state-created public benefit corporation. Applying the Pike test, the Court first pointed out that, after years of discovery, no disparate impact on out-of-state, as opposed to in-state businesses, could be found regarding the ordinances.