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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, June 11, 2007

Berks State Rep Candidate Mike Morrill Is a Trash Talker

When he was a green, community activist Mike Morrill ran for governor. That was in 2002. Although I eventually became disenchanted with the greens, I met Morrill several times, and he impressed me as one person who represented what was right about the green party. He advocated clean election laws and a living wage. He was also the best trash talking candidate.

Now I don't mean the kind of trash talk you usually get from me. Here's what Mike said at the time. "Pennsylvania imports more trash than any other state in the nation, by more than two to one. As a matter of fact, we import right now about a ton of trash for every man woman and child in the state. We import it from 28 states. We import it from Canada. We import it from Puerto Rico. Which tells you something about the economics of trash." His solution? Lower daily volume permits.

Now Mike is a Democrat. Instead of running for governor, he was elected to West Reading Borough Council. There, he's persuaded fellow council members to adopt, unanimously, a clean air ordinance that deals with a kind of trash we can't see. It imposes restrictions on mercury emissions eleven times tougher than our current federal standard. This may sound a bit draconian to those of you who just hate when Big Brother meddles in business. But that neurotoxin is dangerous. One of every twelve women of childbearing age, has levels high enough to endanger her unborn children.

Over the weekend, John Morgan at Pa. Progressive asked me to tell you about Morrill's current bid for election to the state house in Berks County. "Mike Morrill has devoted his life to liberal and progressive causes, for working families, for improving our communities, our state and our nation. He has stood for labor rights, social justice and for US. It’s time we elect someone in the 127th who will truly represent the people of the 127th instead of the legislator’s family. It’s time we elect Mike Morrill, someone who won’t vote for the Republican Speaker of the House in Harrisburg."

"I believe candidates with strong, sound stances deserve our support, and this is a race where your dollars can make the difference. Please make a contribution to this critical cause."

If you can afford to contribute, Morrill's ActBlue page is here.


LVDem said...

want to have fun... plot the location of all the dumps on a map and the overlay the location of all the state's interstates... go on I'll wait. Alright, to save time, the dumps are located along interstate corridors and near the boarders. We don't just import a lot of trash, we subsidize it with our interstates.

Want a local example: drive on I 78 east between Bethlehem and Easton. Keep and eye to the right. There is a massive landfill there, just outside of Glendon.

And just ask the gov how well organized trash haulers are in Harrisburg (he's faced them when trying to raise the tipping fee). Uber-mega lobbyists might be the appropriate term.

LVDem said...

oh, I raised that point to say that if Mike is serious in tackling this issue (and other environmental issues for that matter), then I'm willing to listen to him. It would certainly be a challenge to the old guard in Berks Co.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVdem, Don't know if you've ever met Morrill. He's a serious and fairly bright guy. And unlike Viotali, who fails to build a consensus, it looks like Morrill can persuade fellow members of his legislature, at least on a local level.

Ny concern is not really the state legislature - it's the interstate commerce clause. Trash haulers have used that argument to have their way.

Chris Casey said...

I accepted money from the incumbent Mr. Morrill is challenging in last year's election, but I am pledging $100 to help Mike in his challenge, and I would like to ask other Democrat committee people to do the same.
If Democrats truly support reform, we will start in our own back yard.

PA progressive said...

Bernie, thanks for the great article about Mike.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'd love to see a real progressive on the ballot as a democrat.

LVDem said...

"Ny concern is not really the state legislature - it's the interstate commerce clause."

Bernie, that's sloppy lawyering. First, if you are talking about the US Constitution, it's Commerce Amongst the States, not interstate commerce (big difference if you want to talk about that). I'm not a lawyer and even I know that (shuddering at thoughts of Con Law courses in college). But you are right in that the state can't ban the practice (unless Congress gives them the power). It can, however, increase tipping fees on a uniform basis, thus making it less economical to import so much trash. There is nothing unconstitutional about that. It's a fee, that if applied uniformally (for importers as well as those originating in-state), has always withstood constitutional challenges. All of our surrounding neighbors have used the fee at various times to persuade haulers to take it elsewhere. But we don't have the gaul, what with our enjoying special interst money and all.

Bernie O'Hare said...


I'm definitely a slob, but you promised me to keep that between us. But LVDem, it is called the interstate commerce clause. US CONST Art. I, Section 8, clause 3 by most if us lawyers and judges, even those among us who still practice. Sorry, dude. Maube we should call it the "commerce among the states" clause.

It is a cause for concern, and not so simple as you make it sound. The argument is that some state and local ordinances are so harmful to interstate commerce they interfere with Congress' authority to regulate. A few years ago, Lehigh County lost a case on precisely this issue. Maybe you should have argued the case for them. :--)

The most recent pronouncement on this subject came from the US Supremes on 4/30/07 in United Haulers v. Oneida-Herkimer, a trash hauling case in which some local regulation was imposed. In that case, a six justice majority handed down four different opinions. It is by no means a clear area of the law and I repeat my concern that whatever is enacted would have to be vetted very carefully. It's a mess, LVDem, and even the supremes are all over the place on it.

LVDem said...

interstate commerce, commerce amongst the states... its semantics.

Tipping fees are higher in other states. Those tipping fees have largely survived scrutiny (unless they are done for the express purpose of detering trash imports). But you are right, this is ALL over the place and has been since the 1780's. Only during the 1900's-1900'2 was there uniform agreement on the nature of the meaning Commerce Amongst the States (I'm sticking to that phrasing btw... its the language in the constitution)

In my mind there is nothing harmful to the concept of commerce amongst the states with regard raising tipping fees to be in line with surrounding states (it can only be done on a state level though). That would not usurp Congressional authority. There is even an added method by which to avoid this complicated issue. Increase the tipping fees for the express purpose of offsetting the costs born by the state in accomodating the trash via roads. Make it about the cost of the services and not about detering trash. Fees, when they can be demonstrated as offsetting services, have historically been upheld so long as they are not excessive or considered unusual.

I think increasing the tipping fees in PA would survive scrutiny. Yes, the haulers would sue, but if done correctly and for the right reasons, I'm not sure that there is an argument to be made, especially since we are so much lower than the other states around us.

LVDem said...

I love these kinds of discussions btw... beats the crap out of calling people names and such.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Agreed. It's much worse than mere name-calling. I could handle that. There have been some sexist remarks and an attempt to defend them.

We point our holy fingers at Rs and conservatives, and spout pious platitudes about “equality” and “equal opportunity” and “protecting a woman’s right to choose.” But when you strip away our veneer, we're a bunch of phonies. There is no excuse for the remarks I've read, and I'm shocked someone would try to defend them.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the kind words. I AM a trash talker, although I haven't raised it in this campaign yet. My district is very urban, and it's not an issue people in Reading want to talk about. However, it is very important to Berks County, since we are becoming the trash capital of PA.

As to your concern about the Interstate Commerce Clause, that is precisely why I crafted my solution instead of attempting to ban imports (which would be a violation). States have the authority to set realistic limits on trash and landfills. Indeed, most states set their limits on landfills so low that it forces trash haulers and municipalities to send their trash out of state. If we lower our daily volume permits to what approximate what we generate in PA, it will have the effect of a ban on imports that is simple and would withstand challenges to constitutionality.

Your concerns about my campaign having to face the old guard and the trash lobby are real. That's why the support of rank and file progressives is so important. To echo what Bernie said, if you can afford to help out, please send a contribution via ActBlue at
or send it via surface mail to The Morrill Majority, PO Box 7475, Reading, PA 19601