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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

A Different Kind of Green Spurred City Trash Law

DALLAS (CN) - A federal judge squashed a Dallas law that set one landfill for commercial trash dumps, blasting city leaders for lying about the environmental justification.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor imposed a permanent injunction on the flow-control ordinance Tuesday. Passed in 2011, the law forced haulers to take trash from the city to the McCommas Bluff Sanitary Landfill in southeast Dallas. Before the ordinance, they were allowed to take the trash to several other landfills in the city and in the surrounding suburbs.

In his 37-page order, O'Connor scoffed at the city's stated reasons for passing the ordinance, such as detering illegal dumping while increasing recycling and cost efficiency.

"The court finds that, despite the city's proffered justifications, the evidence demonstrates that it implemented the flow control ordinance to raise revenue to advance its economic and proprietary interests at the expense of the franchisees' rights," O'Connor wrote. "This is an unreasonable exercise of its police powers."

The judge singled out comments made by Mayor Mike Rawlings at a September 2011 city council meeting that emphasized the revenue-raising benefits of the ordinance.

As quoted in the ruling, Rawlings said:"There's 700 to 900 ... thousand tons of commercial waste leaving the city of Dallas and people are making money off of that. Corporations outside of Dallas are making money off of that. That could mean $15 to $18 million of revenue for the city coffers."

Former city sanitation director Mary Nix also "made a series of admissions that shows the purported justifications were not the true motivation," according to the ruling.

"She admitted that the flow control ordinance was not necessary to address illegal dumping issues; that the flow control ordinance, while valuable, was not necessary to increase the recycling rate in Dallas; that no landfills were currently operating in the city without a permit; that solid waste within the city limits was currently being handled in an environmentally sound and cost-efficient manner; and that she could not identify any portion of the flow control ordinance that would help generate data about commercial waste," O'Connor wrote. "This evidence undermines the argument that the flow control ordinance was implemented to improve air quality, implement "green" technologies, and provide new jobs."

The National Solid Waste Management Association, a trade association representing several of the haulers in the lawsuit, said that it was "gratified" by the ruling.

President and CEO Sharon H. Kneiss said "our efforts - especially those of NSWMA's Texas Chapter - demonstrate NSWMA will not hesitate to protect the rights of its members and our industry and promote free enterprise."

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