Oregon Waste Systems, Inc. v. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

PETITIONER: Oregon Waste Systems, Inc. et al.
RESPONDENT: Department of Environmental Quality of The State of Oregon et al.
LOCATION: Landfill

DOCKET NO.: 93-70
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: Oregon Supreme Court

CITATION: 511 US 93 (1994)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1994
DECIDED: Apr 04, 1994

Andrew J. Pincus - on behalf of the Petitioners
Thomas A. Balmer - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

In 1989, Oregon Legislature imposed a surcharge on solid waste generated out-of-state and disposed of within the state. The Department of Environmental Quality, determined the amount of the surcharge to be $2.25 per ton, significantly higher than the $0.85 per ton fee charged for in-state waste. Two waste disposal companies —Waste Systems Inc. and Columbia Resource Company (CRC) — disposed of waste generated out-of-state in Oregon. Waste Systems Inc. managed and owned a landfill in Oregon, and CRC transported waste from Washington State to Oregon. The companies challenged the surcharge in the Oregon Court of Appeals, arguing that it breached the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. However, the appellate court upheld the surcharge, and the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed.


Is the surcharge that Oregon imposed on the in-state disposal of waste produced out-of-state a violation of the Commerce Clause?

Media for Oregon Waste Systems, Inc. v. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 04, 1994 in Oregon Waste Systems, Inc. v. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in the case of 93-70, Oregon Waste Systems versus Department of Environmental Quality of the State of Oregon will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

These consolidated cases come to us on writ of certiorari to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The State of Oregon imposes a fee on disposal of non-hazardous solid waste.

The fee for waste generated out of state is $2.25 per ton.

The fee for identical waste generated within Oregon is $0.85 per ton.

Petitioners challenge the higher fee on wastes form other states as voilation of the Commerce Clause.

The State Court of Appeals rejected their Commerce Clause challenge, and the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Oregon Supreme Court.

The negative aspect of the Commerce Clause prohibits states form unjustifiably discriminating against interstate commerce.

The Oregon fee structure facially discriminates because it imposes a higher fee on wastes from other states than wastes from within Oregon.

Absent proof that out of state waste is more costly to dispose of, the mere fact that the higher fee on such waste purports to be cost-based does not render the fee non-discriminatory.

Respondent, agencies of the State of Oregon, have failed to justify that discrimination.

Wastes from other states are identical in all material respects to Oregon waste.

Respondents' suggestion that the state has a valid interest in conferring an economic advantage on those who handle Oregon waste is in odds with the very purpose of the Commerce Clause which is to break down protections of barriers to the free flow of interstate trade.

Although respondent's claim that a higher fee must be imposed on out of state wastes to compensate for the general in-state taxes that Oregon citizens pay to ward the state?s waste reduction activities, respondents have not identified a specific tax burden imposed on Oregon citizens that is comparable and kind and agreed to the higher fee on out of state waste.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun has joined.