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Waste Management Holdings, Inc. v. Gilmore

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20753
Nos. No. 00-1185, 252 F.3d 316/(4th Cir., 06/11/2001) Aff'd in part and rev'd in part

The court affirms in part and reverses in part a district court decision that five Virginia statutory provisions regulating municipal solid waste (MSW) violated either the U.S. Commerce or Supremacy Clauses. After private landfills in the state contracted for the disposal of MSW from New York, the state passed the five provisions, which capped the amount of waste any landfill could accept; required regulations governing MSW transport by ship or barge, including a ban on the stacking of containerized waste on a barge more than two containers high; prohibited the commercial transport of solid waste on three state rivers; prohibited landfills from accepting MSW from uncertified vehicles with four or more axles; and required the regulation of the commercial transport of MSW by trucks with four or more axles. Several landfill owners and MSW transporters challenged the provisions and sued several state employees, including the governor. The district court held that the provisions violated the Commerce Clause and that the three rivers ban and the stacking provision violated the Supremacy Clause and, thus, granted summary judgment to the landfill owners and MSW transporters.

The court first holds that the solid waste cap on landfills, the trucking certification provision, and the four or more axle provision do violate the dormant Commerce Clause. The Virginia General Assembly enacted the provisions for the discriminatory purpose of excluding out-of-state MSW from Virginia landfills. Although the state made a reasonable showing that out-of-state MSW posed health and safety risks not posed by in-state MSW, the state could not prove that the statutory provisions at issue are the least discriminatory. Rather than discriminating against all out-of-state MSW, Virginia's cap should only target the MSW from states that have lesser MSW health and safety standards. The court also holds that the state produced no evidence that the trucking certification program and the four axle provision were the least burdensome on interstate commerce. The court then holds that the state does not qualify for the market participant doctrine exception to Commerce Clause regulation, and Congress did not authorize state discrimination of out-of-state MSW when it enacted a RCRA provision encouraging states to consider local conditions in addressing solid waste disposal. The court, however, holds that the state defendants did produce sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the stacking provision and the three rivers ban are the least discriminatory alternatives available for protecting Virginia citizens against toxic contamination of its rivers from unintended spills. The court also holds that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the health and environmental risks associated with stacking sealed shipping containers containing MSW more than two containers high on barges, and, therefore, the district court erred in concluding that the stacking provision violated the Supremacy Clause. The court next holds that the state's three rivers ban violates the Supremacy Clause because it completely excludes federally licensed barges from transporting any MSW on those rivers. The court additionally holds that because the governor of Virginia lacks a specific duty to enforce the challenged statutes, the Ex parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity does not apply, and the governor cannot be sued.

[The district court's decision in this litigation is published at 30 ELR 20090.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Evan M. Tager
Mayer, Brown & Platt
2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 463-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Stewart T. Leeth, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
900 E. Main St., Richmond VA 23219
(804) 786-2071

Hamilton, J. Before Widener, J., concurring in a separate opinion, and King, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part.