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Bad News From Toronto!



October 27, 2000

For more information, contact: Mary Beth Doyle, Ecology Center 734-663-2400
Jeff Surfus, NO WASTE and Clean Water Action 734-426-1984

ANN ARBOR--A coalition of Michigan environmentalists today charged state officials have opened the floodgates to a river of out of state trash, and demanded immediate action by Governor Engler and the Department of Environmental Quality to block the doubling of garbage imports from Toronto to Michigan.

Coordinated by the Ecology Center, the coalition said the silence of state officials on a proposal by Toronto to send more than 200 trucks per day of trash to two southeast Michigan landfills has created the false impression that Michigan is a "welcoming host" for foreign garbage. Toronto last week abandoned alternative plans to send its garbage to a northern Ontario mine in favor of exports to Michigan.

"A Toronto Star headline read 'Michigan a welcoming host for Toronto's transient trash.' Anyone reading the Toronto newspapers will get the false impression that Michigan citizens relish the prospect of being a dumping ground for out of state waste," said Mary Beth Doyle of the Ecology Center. "That's because Governor Engler and the DEQ haven't made a peep against the proposal.

"When New York City proposed to send its waste to Virginia for disposal, its Republican Governor rose up in arms and blasted the idea. Meanwhile, our Governor has said nothing about the Toronto proposal" said Doyle.

The coalition said the ineffectual resistance of the state to out of state trash actually cloaks its true position, which is in favor of "free flow" of garbage. While Engler and DEQ officials say they support federal legislation to permit states to limit the interstate shipment of waste, they have consistently supported eliminating the authority of Michigan counties to limit imports of waste, have opposed state legislation which would require out of state trash to meet Michigan's health-based standards, and have smothered opposition to the expansion of Michigan landfills. The influence of Michigan's waste industry, including its political giving to candidates and office holders, is the reason for the state's position, they charged.

"Both the governments of Michigan and Toronto need to understand that the people of Michigan are not in favor of receiving out-of-state garbage," says Jeff Surfus of NO WASTE and Clean Water Action. "We are going to do what is necessary to convince our government to take action, and then we'll see what happens in Toronto."

The groups also called on the Michigan Congressional delegation and state legislators to join in a demand for immediate action from the Engler Administration. "People in Michigan are outraged that the state is standing idly by; our elected officials should be outraged as well," commented Alison Horton, Michigan Sierra Club Director. "We urge them to demand swift corrective action from the Engler Administration."

One of the two landfills that will accept the increased Toronto imports of garbage in Sumpter Township was expanded over Wayne County's objections in 1994. The current director of Michigan's DEQ, Russell Harding, ignored the county's interpretation of its own solid waste plan in order to allow a significant expansion of capacity at the landfill.

"Actions speak louder than task forces," said Lana Pollack, MEC President. "While the Governor has appointed advisory groups to study what Michigan can do about out of state waste, his DEQ Director has been undermining Michigan's position by fattening Michigan landfill capacity, driving down prices and making disposal here attractive for out of state waste generators."

In fiscal year 1996, according to DEQ records, Michigan imported approximately 5.49 million cubic yards of Type II (mixed) solid waste that were disposed of at Michigan landfills. In fiscal year 1999, Type II imports climbed to 6.33 million cubic yards, an increase in three years of approximately 14%.

Garbage is not all that Michigan imports. According to the DEQ's recently-released "Environmental Quality Report 2000," imports of hazardous waste to Michigan jumped from 301,000 tons to 607,000 tons between 1992 and 1998.

The coalition demanded that Engler and the DEQ:

--Immediately send a letter to Toronto officials urging them to rethink the export of trash to Michigan, and insisting that Toronto immediately implement maximum waste reduction and recycling programs.

--Institute immediate and frequent inspections of trash entering Michigan from Canada and other states to assure that hazardous waste is not concealed or embedded in the imports.

--Immediately deny a proposal to dramatically increase imports of hazardous waste to Michigan for disposal in an underground injection well in Romulus. A state panel recommended last spring that the DEQ deny the permit for the well, but DEQ Director Harding has not acted.

--Make passage of state legislation barring shipments of waste from states with less stringent disposal standards a priority in the Legislature's lame-duck session which begins November 9.

--Take a leadership role in making top priority the passage of federal legislation giving states the right to restrict waste imports in the 2001-2002 session of Congress.

--Revive Michigan's faltering solid waste reduction and recycling program, largely abandoned by DEQ since 1996, when $27 million in recycling funds were diverted to other purposes.

--Respect the authority of county governments to limit imports.

The group also demanded that Engler cease accepting political contributions from PACs representing the waste industry.

The environmental coalition consists of the following groups: Ecology Center, Network of Waste Activists Stopping Trash Exports (NO WASTE), Michigan Environmental Council, Clean Water Action, Public Interest Group In Michigan (PIRGIM), Michigan Land Use Institute, and the Sierra Club.