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`Importer' States Rebel Against Hazardous Waste

13 band together, demand federal action to penalize `exporter' states

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JUST say ``no'' to hazardous waste exports. That is what a group of states, tired of receiving most of the nation's toxic waste, are telling one another. Although they have yet to make good on their pledge, these 13 states - called States for Responsible and Equitable Waste Management - are trying to send a message to toxic waste exporting states.

By pushing for tougher federal action to penalize exporters, increasing waste disposal fees, and even banning certain large-scale exporters, these ``net importer'' states are pressuring other states to keep toxic waste within their own borders.

``Nearly 90 percent of the hazardous waste that comes to Alabama comes from out of state, says Leigh Pegues, director of Alabama's Department of Environmental Management. ``That's not fair. That's not right.'' Alabama and South Carolina are leading the campaign to crack down on exporters.

Major waste-exporting states like Massachusetts, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida have run into difficulties trying to build their own facilities. Often blamed are laborious siting procedures and the so-called ``not in my backyard'' (NIMBY) attitude of people who live near likely sites.

This fall, after four years of controversy, Massachusetts rejected a proposal by Clean Harbors Company to build a hazardous waste incinerator in Braintree, Mass., just south of Boston. It was the sixth project that disapproved since the 10-year search began. State environmental officials last month declared the site unsuitable because of the area's high population density. Clean Harbors had invested $14 million in the project.

``The basic problem is, the process works backwards,'' says Daniel Greenbaum, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. He says state siting rules allow a company to invest time and money in a project long before a license can be approved.

Industry officials say the long siting process, also common in other states, allows time for local opposition to build. ``If you look at Massachusetts and California, it's just kowtowing to NIMBY. I don't know how else you would put it,'' says Richard Fortuna, executive director of Hazardous Waste Treatment Council, a group of high-tech commercial firms that support strong regulation of hazardous waste.

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