Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

National Solid Waste Management Ass'n v. Williams

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20484
Nos. No. 4-94-826, 877 F. Supp. 1367/(D. Minn., 03/10/1995)

The court holds that a Minnesota statute that controls the flow of solid waste in the state violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The statute establishes a hierarchy of waste management techniques and requires all Minnesota counties to choose a preferred waste management technique for waste generated in the county. Counties may either choose waste processing or land disposal at a facility that meets the federal standards for new disposal facilities. Under the statute, arrangers may freely haul waste to any facility as long as the facility is equal or superior on the waste management hierarchy to the method that the county that generated the waste chose. Arrangers are subject to special requirements, however, if they choose a method "inferior" to that selected by the county. The court holds that it is undisputed that the statute does not facially discriminate against interstate commerce. The court next holds that the statute has a discriminatory purpose. If a county chooses waste processing, an arranger can choose waste processing without incurring any obligation. Where the county has chosen waste processing and an arranger chooses to deliver waste to a landfill in Minnesota, the arranger must add $4.60 per ton to the cost of disposing of waste in a Minnesota landfill, because all Minnesota landfills are new facilities. If an arranger decides to transport waste out of Minnesota, however, it will have to pay an additional $21.25 per ton to the majority of out-of-state landfills. This cost eradicates any competitive advantage that the out-of-state landfills currently have in the open market. Further, the statute requires waste generated in the metropolitan areas to be processed before it can be landfilled, and prohibits Minnesota landfills from accepting unprocessed waste. Thus, an arranger for the disposal of metropolitan waste that selects disposal will be forced to dispose of the waste out of state and incur the obligation to establish trust fund payments and indemnify the generators of the waste. The court holds that the statute, as applied, achieves an impermissible discriminatory purpose. The only Minnesota interests that are burdened, if at all, are benefitted by the built-in exemption of the local preference. Further, the statute does not advance its stated purpose of removing the false economies of landfills for the 39 counties that chose landfilling as their preferred waste management method, because an arranger in such a county will not have to establish the trust fund requirements if the landfill is a new facility. The court finds that the local preference exemption from the trust fund and indemnification obligations alleviates any burden that in-state waste management entities may feel and constitutes substantial indirect evidence of a discriminatory purpose. The exemption leads the court to conclude that Minnesota's articulated goal is not the purpose of the statute. Rather, the court finds that the legislative history surrounding the statute is "brimming with protectionist rhetoric." The court holds that the statute is not evenhanded in its application. The court next holds that the volume of interstate commerce impacted is not probative of whether the impact is incidental. The effect of stopping waste at the border cannot be incidental; however, it is impossible to tell from the record whether the statute has this effect. Stating that the statute is subject to strict scrutiny, the court holds that it is unconstitutional. The court determines that it need not decide whether it is a legitimate state interest to address liability that may arise in other states, because the statute does little to further the state's goal. Even if Minnesota carried its burden of establishing a legitimate purpose, it has not produced any evidence that the stated purpose of protecting Minnesota generators from future liability cannot be served as well in a nondiscriminatory manner, i.e., without exempting the local preferences.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Timothy R. Thornton
Briggs & Morgan
2400 IDS Ctr.
80 S. 8th St., Minneapolis MN 55402
(612) 334-8400

Counsel for Defendant
Jocelyn F. Olson, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
102 State Capitol, St. Paul MN 55155
(612) 296-6196