Brief Fact Summary. The Town of Clarkstown had a flow control ordinance, which required all solid waste to be processed at a designated transfer station before leaving the municipality. The town wished to retain the processing fees charged at the transfer station to amortize the cost of the facility. Out-of-State firms that were denied access to the local market sued, arguing that the ordinance violated the Dormant Commerce Clause.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Dormant Commerce Clause prohibits economic protectionism in the form of regulatory measures designed to benefit in-state economic interest by burdening out of state competitors. Economic protectionism is per se invalid, unless the municipality can demonstrate, under rigorous scrutiny, that it has no other less restrictive means to advance a legitimate local interest.
A solid waste transfer station receives bulk solid waste and separates recyclable from non-recyclable items for shipment and further processing. The Town hired a private contractor to build a transfer station, operate it for five years, and then sell it to the Town for one dollar, in exchange for a guaranteed minimum waste flow and the right to charge haulers an $81 per ton tipping fee. To meet the annual guarantee the Town adopted a flow control ordinance which required all non-hazardous solid waste material within the town to be deposited at the new transfer station. Carbone operated a similar recycling center in Clarkstown. The ordinance permitted him to receive the waste, but required him to bring the non-recyclable residue from that waste to the transfer station. Carbone could not ship the non-recyclable waste himself, and therefore had to pay a tipping fee on trash that he had already sorted.
Issue. Does the ordinance discriminate against interstate commerce without proper justification?
Held. Justice Kennedy. Yes.
The ordinance does regulate interstate commerce because garbage comes to the Carbone facility in Clarkstown from places other than Clarkstown, including from out of State. By requiring Carbone to send the non-recyclable portion of his waste to a particular transfer station, the flow control ordinance drives up the cost for out of state interests to dispose of their waste. This economic effect brings the ordinance within the purview of the Commerce Clause.
The ordinance discriminates against interstate commerce because all other operators are barred from processing waste. There is thus no competition in the waste processing service at all and no room for investment from out-of-state companies.
There are less restrictive means available to address the health and environmental problems that allegedly justify this ordinance. Uniform, nondiscriminatory safety regulations would ensure that competitors do not cut corners on environmental safety.
Dissent. Points of Law - for Law School Success
First, if a state law discriminates against interstate commerce in favor of local business or investment, it is per se invalid, save a narrow class of cases in which the municipality can demonstrate, under rigorous scrutiny, that it has no other means to advance a legitimate local interest. View Full Point of Law
Justice Souter, The Chief Justice, and Justice Blackmun.
The ordinance did not benefit local interests but instead directly aided the government in satisfying a traditional government responsibility. In fact, the price of hauling trash increased and the voters of the Town approved of the increase. The ordinance was therefore not protectionist in its purpose or effect.
The ordinance does not burden out of state economic interests. There was no indication in the record that any out of state trash processor had been harmed, or that interstate movement or disposition of trash would be affected.
Concurrence. Justice O’Connor.
The ordinance is not facially or effectively discriminatory because it gives more favorable treatment to just one facility and not a group of local interests.
Although this is a non-discriminatory statute, it can still be invalid because the burden on interstate trade, when compared in to the local benefits conferred, is great. The local interest was proper waste disposal and is a valid significant goal. However, it could be achieved by less discriminatory means such as the Town setting specific standards with which all town processors must comply.
It should be noted that if all states created a scheme such as the one adopted by Clarkstown, then the free movement of solid waste in the stream of commerce would be severely impaired. Discussion.
The majority adopted the approach used in New Energy, which asked whether a facially discriminatory law had valid alternatives. In the concurring opinion, J. O’Connor differs and uses a balancing approach because the statute was non-discriminatory.