Chem Waste Management, Inc. v. Hunt, 504 U.S.334 (1992)
Chem Waste Management, Inc. v. Hunt, 504 U.S.334 (1992)
The legal case that the court is addressing is on the law in Alabama which imposed a fee on hazardous waste that was brought into the state for disposal. The complainant argued that the law was in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause, which sought to ensure that no unconstitutional burden was placed on businesses taking place between two or more different states. However, the state of Alabama enacted an Act that sought to limit the level of hazardous wastes that are disposed in the state, particularly commercial facilities that dispose more than 100,000 tons of such wastes. Given that the Emelle facility was the only commercial facility within the state that could handle such an amount of hazardous wastes, it was greatly affected by the law. Furthermore, the Act stipulated that an additional fee of $72.00 should be levied on every ton of toxic waste that is disposed the commercial waste plant. The plaintiff, Chemical Waste Management Inc., filed a writ of certiorari that challenged all the elements of the Alabama Act.
There were two parties involved in the case. The appellant in the case was Chemical Waste Management Inc., who operated a land disposal facility with the ability to handle huge amounts of toxic waste in Emelle, Alabama, from both in and out of the state. The petitioner filed a suit challenging an Act passed by the state of Alabama that imposed heavy taxes on toxic wastes surpassing 100,000 tons from other states, especially since it was the only facility in the state with the ability to handle such levels of hazardous wastes and no tax was levied on similar waste that was generated within the state of Alabama. The complaint argued that the Act violated several clauses included in the US Constitution, including Due Process, Equal Protection, and Commerce. The defendant in the case was the Guy Hunt, the governor of the state of Alabama. The state argued that the law was legitimate and that it was meant to assist it in carrying out its roles in serving and protecting the local communities.
The Supreme Court held the case and ruled in favor of the petitioner. The Court found the law passed by the state of Alabama to discrimination against commerce originating from other states. While reading the decision of the court, Justice White stated that law was in violation of the Commercial Clause contained in the US Constitution that protected commercial entities against differential treatment (Oregon-Washington Railroad & Navigation Co. v. Washington, 270 U.S. 87 (1926)). Thus, the Court stated that no state should isolate itself from the rest by raising an issue that affects the others as well through implementing barriers that would affect the possibility of free trade amongst them. By imposing the additional levies on the hazardous wastes from other states, the state of Alabama was discouraging interstate commerce and affecting the ability of the facility to operate at full capacity by imposing a burdensome levy on wastes from other states. Furthermore, the Court decided that the state had failed to show any indication of providing nondiscriminatory alternatives that were aimed at preserving the interests of the locals residing in the state. It felt that the state could address its concern about the high levels of toxic waste that were being received at the Emelle facility through less discriminatory methods, including additional levies on all the vehicles transporting such materials through its state roads or the amount of tons that should be disposed in the landfills at the facility. The Court also argued that while the state claimed that it was concerned about the health and safety of its citizens through implementing the law as it dedication to conserving the environment, the concern should not vary based on the origin of such wastes. The argument was based on the fact that the state had the capacity to observe and control the transportation and disposal of all lethal wastes within its borders. The decision made by the Court was not in violation of its stance on quarantine as the additional levy was not legitimate since it allowed for the creation and disposal of hazardous waste material within Alabama’s state borders as well as the importation of additional toxic wastes from other parts of the country. Therefore, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that the state of Alabama should overturn the law and provide the appropriate relief to Chemical Waste Management Inc.
The case was easy to understand and not confusing in any way. From the onset, it was clear who was the claimant and the defender in the case. It was also very easy to deduce the arguments of both parties and why they felt that their positions were correct.
I agree with the decision made by the Supreme Court. The Court was right to strike down the tax on toxic wastes from other states as it was discriminatory and meant to frustrate the company. Additionally, the Court explained that even though the fee was unconstitutional, there were other ways through which the state of Alabama could have addressed its concerns. For instance, the Court stipulated that the state could have shown its protectionist objective by implementing a law that did not favor certain activities within its boundaries and discouraging similar activities to be carried out by people originating from other states (Lee, 2015). Based on that, I support the decision that the law or actions taken by the state should be a genuine reflection of its goals in protecting and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the people rather than seeking for ways to discourage trade between different states.
There are several lessons that I derived from reading the case. To begin with, states should take the time to ensure that the laws that pass and implement are not discriminatory to any entity whether they originate from in or out of the state. Secondly, while it is the role of the state to protect the both the environment and the health of the public through monitoring and regulation the disposal of harmful substances, it should ensure that such objectives are not biased. In the case of Alabama, the state should have considered imposing similar levies on wastes originating from within its boundaries since they had the same potential to cause harm on the environment and the people residing on the state even though they were manufactured from within its borders (O’Leary, 1997). Lastly, I learned that the Supreme Court has the ability to overturn state law and order the case to pay damage to those affected by its implementation. In this case, the state of Alabama was ordered to give Chemical Waste Management Inc. the appropriate amount of relief following the inception of its discriminatory law.
Chemical Waste Management v. Hunt (91-471), 504 U.S. 334 (1992)
Lee, H. H. (2015). Dormant Commerce Clause Review: Why the Ninth Circuit Decision in Corey Strayed from Precedent and What the Supreme Court Could Have Done About It. Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, 42(2), 54-113.
O’Leary, R. (1997). Trash Talk: The Supreme Court and the Interstate Transportation of Waste. Public Administration Review, 57 (4), 281–284.
Oregon-Washington Railroad & Navigation Co. v. Washington, 270 U.S. 87 (1926)
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