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C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Clarkstown


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511 U.S. 383 (1994), argued 7 Dec. 1993, decided 16 May 1994 by vote of 6 to 3; Kennedy for the Court, O’Connor concurring, Souter in dissent, joined by Rehnquist and Blackmun. This case dealt with the ability of state and local governments to regulate the disposal of solid and hazardous wastes through so-called flow control ordinances. Such measures require that persons handling these materials bring them to one specified facility, usually owned or under contract with a local government, where they are sorted and baled before being shipped off for permanent disposal. These measures became particularly popular in the 1980s as local governments, such as that in Clarkstown, New York, sought to provide a steady stream of wastes that would, in turn, ensure a fixed base of revenue by which to finance ambitious waste-to-energy facilities. Similar measures were also invoked by local governments to make sure that they had sufficient revenue to fund garbage transfer stations. The flow control measures placed pressure on garbage haulers and on landfill operators, who had the advantage under the old system of a cheap but often environmentally questionable place to dump wastes.

City authorities in Clarkstown adopted their flow control measure as a way to finance a new transfer station. The station was constructed and operated by a private contractor for a period of five years, at which time the town promised to buy it for one dollar. The town made the operation profitable by guaranteeing a minimum waste flow of 120,000 tons per year for which the contractor charged haulers an $81 per ton fee. A key feature of the Clarkstown ordinance required that all nonrecyclable residue from any private operations had to be brought to the city-supported transfer station.

C & A Carbone, Inc. operated a business that received solid waste and sorted it prior to disposal. Much of the solid waste that they received, however, came from outside the jurisdiction of Clarkstown, but city officials insisted that the materials coming from the Carbone plant fell under the flow control restrictions, which meant the company had to pay the fee before hauling waste for disposal outside the town. Such a regulation, the company insisted, hampered them in competing with other companies not subject to the ordinance. Carbone, in fact, knowingly violated the ordinance, a fact that became clear when one of its trucks dumped a load of unrecyclable solid waste following a traffic accident. The lower federal courts upheld the constitutionality of the city ordinance, but the Supreme Court overturned it as a violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Justice Anthony Kennedy returned to a 1978 decision in striking down the law. In Philadelphia v. New Jersey, the Court held that solid waste was a subject of interstate commerce. Justice Kennedy brushed aside Clarks-town's argument that the wastes involved were entirely from within the area and found instead that the ordinance had a direct economic effect beyond the town's boundaries. By hoarding its garbage, Kennedy went on, the town had discriminated against interstate commerce in favor of local business, an action that was permitted only when the locality could demonstrate that no other measures were available to it.

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Subjects: Law.


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