blank.gif (51 bytes) Rural Wrap

Garbage Wars

by Dan Steninger

’m trying to come up with a new slogan for the times, but I’m having trouble getting a good one. It must be the subject that’s giving me writer’s block. "You’ll close my dump when you pry the cold, soggy..." "When garbage dumps are outlawed..." "If the government doesn’t trust me with a garbage dump..."

Ah, forget it.

While this may come as a shock to many Nevada Journal readers and smack of anarchy, out here in Elko County some of us still take care of our own garbage, especially those people living on ranches. When the garbage starts piling up in and around the house, we feed what we can to the chickens, we burn what we can of what’s left (though, we’re not supposed to talk about that) and we haul the rest to the dump: the one we wallered out with the ‘dozer on the other side of the corrals; not the one with the fancy liner, monitoring wells and toll booth operated under special permit from the federal bureau of landfills.

And we imagine that’s the way a lot of us are going to be doing it for the foreseeable future. The only difference is, now the county is going to start charging us for garbage collection and threatening us with, oh, jail I guess, if we don’t surrender our household waste to the company chosen by the county to be in charge of such collections.

The county commissioners have taken up the notion that all these ranch dumps have to be closed.

"Why?" someone at a meeting will ask.

"It’s the law," commissioners will respond.

"Which law is that?" the troublemaker will counter.

"Look, we don’t walk around with all the state and federal laws that address everything that might come up," commissioners will reply, in a slightly elevated tone of voice.

"Maybe you should, if you’re going to be blaming them for what you’re doing."

After a couple meetings worth of this it turned out that state law, adopted under the threat of bad things to come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, does indeed direct everybody to close down their rural dumps. Except ranchers, maybe.

One state official tells those who ask that agricultural enterprises (ranches) are exempt from the law. Another state official will tell those asking him that agricultural wastes (dead cows) are exempt from the law.

Addressing the latter bureaucrat at a recent county meeting, a ranch woman from the north part of the county asked: "So, if I got a dead steer, I can haul it to my dump; but, if I have a T-bone for dinner, I can’t haul the bone to my dump?"


It was a sad spectacle to watch the once-proud Elko County Commission jump liberty’s rails and take on the airs of federal officers sent hither to harass our people, and eat out their substance, to paraphrase a writer the commissioners probably no longer recognize.

And the citizenry of Elko could, I suppose, take the commission’s advice: that it’s time to quit fighting the system when it comes to federal mandates on the collection and disposal of garbage.

More likely, though, they’ll ignore the solid-waste directives and bide their time ’til the next election by explaining to commissioners how embarrassingly off-base they are on the matter.

While the county is arguing none of these silly rules are its idea, no one around here is buying it. According to Charles Voos, Elko County Community Development director, Elko County citizens must obey these rules, drafted in Washington, under the "trickledown theory."

Neither Elko County nor the State of Nevada really have any dump rules, he explained. Instead, Congress forced the state—the usual routine is to threaten to withhold the tax dollars a state has sent in to Washington for redistribution—to adopt regulations created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Really, Charlie? Wasn’t that addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Printz vs. U.S., when the court decided that forcing states to carry out federal orders is not among the central government’s powers? Writing for the court in 1997 was Justice Antonin Scalia, who said: the central government "may not compel the states to implement, by legislation or executive decision, federal regulatory programs."

I don’t know what it is about politicians and their programs—I mean, how petty does a pol have to be to get all puffed up over the fact he flexed his muscles and made his neighbor change the way he takes out the garbage? But for any rural county out there hell-bent on coming up with a solid-waste disposal plan, what’s wrong with this:

Tell residents garbage collection isn’t a government job; then draw up a little pamphlet listing the phone numbers of the disposal companies operating in the area and showing, for those who can’t figure it out for themselves, the proper way to dig a hole in the ground, put in garbage, and cover it back up. A memo to the sheriff warning him to be on the lookout for suspicious characters from the East snooping around private dumps—and informing him of the county’s decision that such interference will not be tolerated—should nicely round out a simple and effective program for dealing with a county’s garbage. NJ

Dan Steninger ( ) is editorial page editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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