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Kleenwell Biohazard Waste & Gen. Ecology Consultants, Inc. v. Nelson

Citation: 25 ELR 20867
No. Nos. 93-35546, -35897, 48 F.3d 391/40 ERC 1289/(9th Cir., 02/09/1995)

The court holds that a Washington state-law requirement that waste disposal companies obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity before collecting, transporting, or disposing of solid waste in the state does not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court first holds that the state effectively waived its claim for federal abstention because it did not raise this issue before the district court and urged the district court to proceed to an adjudication on the merits. The court next holds that the district court did not err in giving the state administrative agency's factual findings preclusive effect, because the administrative hearing met both federal and state requirements. Turning to the merits of the waste disposal company's claim, the court rejects the company's insistence that the regulation directly burdens interstate commerce or discriminates against out-of-state interests. The court reviews U.S. Supreme Court precedent and finds that there is no per se rule against regulations that require a company to obtain a certificate before operating in the state. The company's expansive interpretation of "direct" would require invalidation of even those regulations that the Supreme Court has upheld because it would, in effect, expand the term until it applied to any regulation that affects interstate commerce. The court finds no evidence that the Supreme Court intended to invalidate state regulations whose primary purpose is to address a legitimate local concern and whose incidental effect is to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has explicitly rejected the notion that any regulation that affects particular companies engaged in interstate commerce necessarily represents an impermissible burden on it.

The court next holds that the regulation is designed to address a legitimate local concern — ensuring the safe disposal of solid waste in rural areas — and that the regulation does not discrimination against out-of-state interests, because both in-state and out-of-state companies may obtain certificates. The waste disposal company has not pointed to the existence of anything more than an incidental burden on interstate commerce and that it has not provided evidence that the effects of the certificate requirement on interstate commerce are "clearly excessive." Moreover, the record contains ample evidence suggesting that a certificate requirement in these circumstances does not violate the Commerce Clause. The central purpose of the certification and rate regulation is to protect public health and safety and to ensure that solid waste collection services are provided to all parts of the state. The state agency made ample findings concerning the problems that can arise from an unregulated market. In addition, the agency found that the regulation serves an important safety concern — by ensuring universal solid waste collection at a reasonable rate, the agency protects against the hazards caused by indiscriminate waste disposal by generators of waste unable to obtain collection service. The court holds that any burden this regulatory scheme imposes on interstate commerce is clearly incidental to its main goal of protecting the health and safety of state residents. Moreover, the certificate requirement's effect on interstate commerce — preventing free entry and unrestricted competition in the field of solid waste collection — imposes at most an insignificant burden on interstate commerce. The court thus holds that the effect is not "clearly excessive" in relation to the substantial local benefits arising from it. The court holds that the Commerce Clause does not prevent Washington from imposing its certification requirement, because the state's interest in assuring the health and safety of its citizens clearly outweighs any burdens imposed on interstate commerce. Finally, the court holds that the company's request for a preliminary injunction is moot in view of the decision on the merits.

Counsel for Plaintiff James T. Johnson
Two Union Sq., Ste. 3000, Seattle WA 98101
(206) 521-3993

Counsel for Defendants
Steven W. Smith, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
Hwy.-Licenses Bldg., P.O. Box 40100, Olympia WA 98504
(206) 753-6200

Before Wright, Tang and Reinhardt, JJ.: