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Waste Management Holdings, Inc. v. Gilmore

ELR Citation: 30 ELR 20334
Nos. No. 3:99CV425, 87 F. Supp. 2d 536/(E.D. Va., 02/02/2000) state statutes violate Commerce Clause

The court holds that Virginia statutes limiting the importation of out-of-state municipal solid waste (MSW) into Virginia violate the U.S. Commerce Clause. The court first holds that the statutes at issue must be examined under strict scrutiny because the statutes discriminate facially against out-of-state interests. Virginia appears to have adopted measures that would frustrate or preclude the importation of MSW at every turn, even if these measures might also hinder the intrastate handling of MSW. For this reason, the disputed statutes must be examined under the two pronged test under which Virginia must show that: (1) the statutes are demonstrably justified by a valid factor unrelated to economic protectionism; and (2) there are no adequate, non-discriminatory alternatives that would protect local interests.

The court then holds that Virginia plainly cannot demonstrate that no adequate, non-discriminatory alternatives exist that would protect local interests just as well as the disputed statutes. Plaintiffs, affected members of the waste industry, posit at least two perfectly reasonable alternatives that might also protect Virginia's landfill capacity: (1) a cap on the flow of MSW into all state landfills, not merely regional landfills used by out-of-state interests; and (2) an increased user fee for all those who deposit MSW in Virginia landfills. Plaintiffs need not have offered such alternatives, because it is Virginia's burden to show that no such reasonable alternatives exist, and it has not done so.

The court then holds that Virginia cannot show that the disputed statutes are demonstrably justified by a valid factor unrelated to economic protectionism. Virginia offers preservation of landfill capacity and the protection of the health and safety of its citizens and the environment as factors justifying the statutes, but the merits of these factors are wanting. The need to preserve landfill capacity and to limit landfill growth has squarely been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court as a valid defense to a Commerce Clause challenge. Further, although the health and safety of its citizens and the environment are valid policy concerns, a state may not address these concerns by discriminating against out-of-state interests. The record demonstrates that Virginia acted to staunch the importation of MSW in a knee-jerk response to reports of increased levels of out-of-state MSW. Thus, any post hoc efforts to shroud its actions in the cloak of environmental conservation and resource preservation are ineffectual.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 30 ELR 20090.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert L. Bronston
Mayer, Brown & Platt
2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 463-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Deborah L. Feild
Attorney General's Office
900 E. Main St., Richmond VA 23219
(804) 786-2071