Virginia Democrats and environmentalists today called on Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III to take his fight against out-of-state garbage to a battlefield he's been reluctant to tread: the U.S. Congress.
In the days since a federal judge blocked enforcement of Virginia's new garbage restrictions, Gilmore has pledged to continue the fight in court. But unlike other governors, he has focused little energy on lobbying Congress to grant states the regulatory power that judges say they lack.
Congressional leaders from several garbage-importing states--including Virginia, the nation's second-largest importer--have pushed bills that would let states restrict that trade.
But little support has come from Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R), one of Gilmore's closest political allies and chairman of the House Commerce Committee, where several such bills have died in the past few years.
Gilmore has not publicly called on Bliley to support these proposed garbage restrictions, saying he's focusing first on the court battle. And though the governor's congressional liaison has been meeting with representatives of other states, Gilmore himself has passed up two opportunities to personally lobby congressional committees on the issue.
"Pick up the phone," Del. Kenneth R. Plum (Fairfax), chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, said today he would advise the governor. "Call Congressman Tom Bliley and ask him to hold hearings right here in Virginia . . . . Give Virginia the authority it needs to deal with this critical problem."
The out-of-state garbage issue dominated much of the General Assembly session earlier this year, with Gilmore taking the lead to pass a new limit on landfill dumping and a ban on garbage barges. But on Tuesday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against those laws and said they were unlikely to survive constitutional scrutiny in a lawsuit filed by Waste Management Inc. and other trash haulers.
That ruling has turned attention toward Congress, which alone has the constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. Several bills have sought to delegate some of that power to states that want to restrict garbage imports.
But Gilmore says he is still intent on winning in court.
"When you're playing cards," he said, "you play one card at a time."
He added that he has had several conversations with Bliley about the issue and would have more.
Environmentalists from Campaign Virginia, an anti-garbage group, and the Sierra Club single out Bliley as a key obstacle to congressional action.
"Most observers, especially in Congress, feel that Tom Bliley is a roadblock on this issue," said Jim Sharp of Campaign Virginia. "Mr. Bliley, let's have some action."
Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.), author of one of the anti-garbage bills, disputed that characterization: "I do not consider him to have his mind closed on this issue."
Aides to Bliley declined to respond to charges that he's blocking the anti-garbage bills, but a March letter to Gilmore and 15 other governors urged them to "become personally involved" in finding a compromise plan on the issue.
"Chairman Bliley has been instrumental in working to hammer out a compromise among the governors," said Bliley spokeswoman Christina Gungoll. "He believes that is the way to pick the lock."