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Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission v. Municipal Sanitary Landfill Authority

Decided: November 18, 1975.


For reversal in both cases -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman and Clifford and Judge Collester. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Mountain, J.


[68 NJ Page 455] These proceedings involve the joint review of two separate cases. In one case the judgment was entered pursuant to an opinion rendered in Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission v. Municipal Sanitary Landfill Authority, 127 N.J. Super. 160 (Ch. Div. 1974). In the other, judgment was entered following the rendition of an oral opinion in a suit brought by the City of Philadelphia, together with the owners of several landfill operations in South Jersey, against the State of New Jersey and its Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The

cumulative effect of these two judgments was to render unconstitutional certain sections of the Waste Control Act, N.J.S.A. 13:1I-1 et seq., together with regulations promulgated by DEP and by the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (HMDC). The measures declared unconstitutional had as their purpose the exclusion from this State of solid waste originating elsewhere. In each suit the trial court found that the laws and regulations under review violated the Commerce Clause, Article I, § 8, clause 3, of the United States Constitution.


The comprehensive authority and responsibility delegated by the Legislature to the HMDC in the Hackensack Meadowlands Reclamation and Development Act, N.J.S.A. 13:17-1 et seq., includes the power to provide facilities for the treatment and disposal of solid waste. N.J.S.A. 13:17-6(w), 13:17-10. The Waste Control Act, N.J.S.A. 13:1I-1 et seq., as originally enacted, contained a legislative finding "that the quality of New Jersey's environment is being threatened by the treatment and disposal of wastes generated or collected outside the State . . ." N.J.S.A. 13:1I-2. By amendments to this act that became effective early in 1974, the Legislature further found that the whole problem of solid waste disposal was growing increasingly acute and that it continued to be seriously exacerbated by the importation of waste from without the State; it determined to and did forbid that any further such waste be brought into the State.*fn1 The Waste Control Act also authorized and directed [68 NJ Page 457] the DEP to promulgate rules and regulations "prohibiting . . . the incineration or landfill of solid waste and the treatment or disposal of liquid wastes within the State which originated or were collected outside the territorial limits of the State." N.J.S.A. 13:1I-4. Both HMDC and DEP promulgated regulations responsive to these legislative enactments, all looking to bar the importation of solid and liquid waste from outside the State.*fn2 [68 NJ Page 458] In order to enforce these statutes and rules HMDC and DEP filed a complaint seeking permanently to enjoin Municipal Sanitary Landfill Authority (hereinafter MSLA)*fn3 from accepting for disposal at its landfill sites any solid waste originating or collected outside of the State's territorial borders.*fn4 At the same time, with the consent of the defendants, an order to show cause issued with temporary restraints prohibiting MSLA from accepting for disposal out-of-state waste. On the return day of the order to show cause, defendants answered, challenging the constitutionality of both the DEP and HMDC regulations as well as the statutes authorizing their promulgation. Thereafter the City of Yonkers, New York, was granted leave to intervene as a party defendant, as it was then using an MSLA site to dispose of its municipal refuse. No testimony was taken; the parties relied on affidavits and the transcript of previous

proceedings before the Hackensack Meadowlands Commission. In February, 1974, the trial judge filed a written opinion declaring the DEP and HMDC regulations to be in contravention of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and therefore invalid. Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission v. Municipal Sanitary Landfill Authority, supra, 127 N.J. Super. 160 (Ch. Div. 1974). Judgment was temporarily stayed and on March 26, the Appellate Division granted plaintiffs' motion for a further stay pending determination of the appeal. Upon application by plaintiffs, this Court granted certification while the appeal was pending unheard in the Appellate Division, R. 2:12-2, 66 N.J. 337 (1974).

In January, 1974, in a separate plenary suit, the City of Philadelphia, together with other plaintiffs mentioned above, filed a complaint seeking a declaration that the Waste Control Act, as well as the regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, violated the Constitutions of both the United States and the State of New Jersey, and further seeking temporary and permanent injunctive relief restraining DEP from enforcing the statutory provisions and from adopting or enforcing regulations intended to be in furtherance of the statutory purpose. On March 25, 1974 the trial judge (not the judge who had heard the Hackensack Meadowlands case), on cross-motions for summary judgment, rendered an oral opinion declaring that N.J.S.A. 13:1I-9 and 10 effected an improper discrimination against interstate commerce and were hence unconstitutional. Following the filing of a notice of appeal to the Appellate Division, we again granted direct certification, 67 N.J. 102, 335 A.2d 55 (1974), and the two actions were brought on for argument and disposition before us at the same time.

We thus face an issue of major public importance, namely, whether the regulations and statutes under review, designed to meet a pressing emergency in the life of the State, are of

such a nature as to violate the Commerce Clause, Article I, § 8, clause 3, of the United States Constitution.*fn5


The Court is acutely aware of the solid waste disposal problem which now exists in the State of New Jersey. Very recently we recognized that it had reached "crisis proportions" due to the increasing scarcity of sites for dumping and landfill. Southern Ocean Landfill, Inc. v. Mayor and Council of the Township of Ocean, 64 N.J. 190, 193 (1974). The facts presented in the two cases now before this Court, together with the legislative concern with this problem to which we have alluded above and of which more will be said below, serve to reinforce very strongly our consciousness of this extremely serious situation.

The materials constituting the records on these appeals reveal that since the effective date of the creation of HMDC, July 1, 1968, three surveys have been conducted to determine the volume and origin of the solid waste disposed of in the landfills located within HMD. The first survey, mandated by N.J.S.A. 13:17-10(a), found that in 1968 approximately 30,000 tons of solid waste entered HMD each week, of which about 4,000 tons originated outside of New Jersey. The second survey, conducted in 1971, indicated that the total volume of solid waste disposed of in the District had risen to 42,000 tons per week, 5,000 tons of which originated outside of the State. The latest survey, conducted in 1973, revealed further increases to total weekly deposits of 55,000 tons of

solid waste, of which about 10,000 tons came from out of state.*fn6

On the basis of the 1973 survey, it was estimated by HMDC that the existing landfill sites within HMD had a useful life of about three years, but that a ban on out-of-state refuse would extend their availability by approximately six months. Since the adoption of the ban on out-of-state dumping, the HMDC revised its estimates of the remaining life of the landfills within the HMD. It was calculated that as of January 1, 1974, sanitary landfills within that area had a total life expectancy of about 38 months if the ban were to be continued, but an availability of only 26 months if the ban were to be lifted. Furthermore, there is little chance of reducing the volume of garbage being dumped in the HMD which originates within the State, for the reason, among others, that the Commission has become obligated by statute, N.J.S.A. 13:17-10, to provide solid waste disposal facilities for over 100 New Jersey municipalities.

State-wide, the picture appears much the same. It was estimated that in 1971 over 40,000 tons of solid waste originating out of state was being buried each week in the 340 sanitary landfills then existing within the State. DEP estimated that in that year 1.5 million tons of solid waste originating outside of the State was buried in New Jersey. DEP has also recently computed the total life of the existing sanitary landfill facilities to be about three years in northern New Jersey and approximately ten years in the southern part of the State. It has also been estimated that a statewide prohibition on solid waste originating elsewhere would lengthen the state-wide landfill life by approximately 8%, with the increase in some specific landfills being as high as 50 to 100%.

Compounding the shortage problem are other extremely important environmental considerations. Many existing landfills

within the State are located within ecologically sensitive areas, such as floodplains and wetlands, or on State-owned public trust tidelands. The operation of landfills now located in these areas may have to be limited or discontinued. An example of this is the action taken by the HMDC in preserving some 1,500 acres of virgin wetlands which had formerly been tentatively designated for use as landfill sites. Further actions of a similar nature are contemplated, thus reducing the estimates of the potential lifespans of such existing facilities.

To obtain a more comprehensive picture of the problem now facing this State, we have taken judicial notice of another report, released in 1972, which has further documented the crisis in this area.*fn7 According to this report, in 1972 almost 95% of New Jersey's solid waste was disposed of in landfills within the State. Further projections indicate that with the existing landfill acreage and the projected rate of dumping, all land that is presently committed to landfill operations will be exhausted by 1982. Also recognized is the strong probability that other environmental considerations may further limit the use for landfill purposes of much of the existing allocated acreage. Moreover, the HMD is singled out as an area where "[a] critical test of creative solid waste management is now taking place . . . ." The report estimated that by the end of 1975, the supply of acreage available for landfill in the Meadowlands would be exhausted, an estimate very similar to those made by the HMDC and noted earlier in this opinion.

We are also aware that very little has yet been done -- in any really effective way -- on either a national or an interstate level to achieve a satisfactory solution to this pressing problem. The scope of federal legislation is thus far quite limited. The Solid Waste Disposal Act, 42 U.S.C.A. 3251 et seq., originally provided only for "financial and technical

assistance and leadership . . ." to develop new methods to reduce the volume of waste and to provide for economical methods of disposal, 42 U.S.C.A. § 3251(a) (6). The Resource Recovery Act of 1970 amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act to provide financial assistance for the construction of solid waste disposal facilities and to furnish technical and financial assistance to promote and develop new methods of resource recovery. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 3251(b) (1), 3254b. Although the Act as it now reads also provides for the encouragement of interstate cooperation to resolve the waste disposal problem, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 3254, 3254a, nothing has been ...

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