By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Although Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's presidential strategists may not realize it yet, New York City is becoming best known outside the metropolitan area not for its lowered crime rate or hizzoner's "quality of life" initiatives but for its garbage. People up and down the East Coast are getting sick of it.
Last week's typically arrogant, unilateral announcement by Giuliani that after the Fresh Kills landfill closes in 2001 the city would be ship ping most of its residential garbage to transfer stations in New Jersey was just the latest shortsighted move on the issue by the man who fashions himself as the '90s "Little Flower."
Beyond catching Governor Christie Whitman by surpriseprompting her "Drop Dead" responseGiuliani's proclamation clearly rankled statewide. In Middlesex County, where the Giuliani plan would have barges unloading 4000 tons of garbage a day at one transfer point, the director of the board of freeholders called it "the most ludicrous proposal I have ever heard."
Already, because of the imminent closing of the massive Staten Island landfill, rotting piles of city garbage are being hauled by truck, rail, and barge into New Jersey, across I-78 (now nicknamed "the garbage inter state"), to the Lehigh Valley and else where in Pennsylvania and on into Virginiaa state that receives more than 100,000 tractor truckloads of out-of-state garbage every year.
Certainly, Whitman is not alone. The Republican governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia recently promised moratoriums on new construction and expansion of solid-waste dumps and stepped-up inspections of incoming loads.
"I am concerned that the increasing magnitude of solid waste managed within Virginia may pose a threat to the Commonwealth's natural re sources and to the health and safety of its citizens," Virginia's Governor Jim Gilmore said in ordering a temporary freeze on new and expand ed solid waste dumps. In addition, Republican State Senator Bill Bolling is proposing legislation that would set a cap on landfill expansion and ban most waterborne waste traffic.
In Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Ridge ordered a doubling of surprise inspections of waste haulers, and will ask the legislature to freeze landfill permits for three years.
New York State is currently the single biggest exporter of trash to Virginia, including almost all the residential garbage from the Bronx, according to The Washington Post, which just completed a three-part investigation into the changing trash business. Although the city's garbage isn't supposed to include medical waste, residents in Virginia towns have complained of finding bloody bandages and linens along the road after accidents involving trucks hauling trash from New York.
Environmentalists are starting to point out that the massive exports of New York trash are having a domino effect, putting pressure on strained regional dumps and causing them to expand and export their own waste.
Giuliani & Co. may not be giving enough consideration to the fact the states they are inundating with re fuseNew Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia for startersare big players in Republican politics. All have full-fledged backlashes mounting against New York for its garbage offensive.
Eco Prosecutions Down Under Clinton
Prosecution of environmental crimes has dropped under the Clinton administration, according to a report by the Washington, D.C.based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Comparing statistics for a three-year period in the Bush administration (19891991) with 19941996 (the last year for which data is available), the review shows 60 percent fewer convictions, 52 percent fewer prosecutions, and a 36 percent increase in refusals to prosecute environmental crime cases by the Clinton administration.
The group said it did the analysis after U.S. attorneys alleged that environmental crime was being downplayed.
"Under the Clinton administration," one U.S. attorney said, "environmental crimes have only been a paper priority; there has been no real commitment....Very few districts have even a single attorney dedicated exclusively to environmental crimes."
Spineless Wonder Says Never Mind
So far, 133 nations, including all of the U.S.'s allies, have signed the Ottawa treaty to ban the use of land minesironically because Clinton himself raised the issue in a speech before the UN General Assembly in 1994. But when push came to shove, the president backed down.
Why? Muller feels the president just can't stand up to the generals.
"The military is concerned about the precedent that would be established," Muller said. "Taking anti-personnel land mines out of the arsenal would open up other categories of weapons to the same kind of logic."
Muller added that weapons such as cluster bombs, for example, might open up a whole new debate in which the military would be challenged to balance so-called utility against indiscriminate slaughter and maiming of civilians. "They see this as a 'slippery slope' that they don't want to go down," he explained.
So instead of facing down the generals, Muller said, Clinton opted for obfuscation.
"Clinton said that by 2006 we hope to have alternatives in place and if we do and ifthey are fielded by that time, we will sign the Ottawa treaty. The obvious problem is that it is a very conditional yes.