Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 2, 2006

Canadian trash and border security in Michigan

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on March 2, 2006

In the Senate HSGAC hearing on the FY 2007 budget request today, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked Sec. Chertoff about the issue of municipal waste being shipped from Canada to the United States and implied that border officials are severely challenged to be able to screen these trash trucks.

Sen. Levin and others had asked the DHS Inspector General to look at the issue two years ago, and the report was recently finished. Apparently the report was deemed too sensitive for public distribution, falling under the sensitive but unclassified For Official Use Only designation. The DHS OIG posted an unclassified summary of the report on its site this week, which reads:

Improvements are needed in the inspection process. For example, the ports vary in how they select and inspect cargo and conduct their VACIS examinations. In addition, there is no Centralized Examination Station in Michigan.

We are recommending that the Commissioner of CBP conduct a risk analysis and develop minimum requirements for selecting and inspecting trucks carrying Canadian MSW.

From Levin’s statement to Chertoff about the issue at the hearing:

We’ve got 12,000 trucks entering Michigan each day. They can be inspected except for the municipal waste trucks where there’s no effective way of inspecting them. And we know that there’s drugs that go into those trucks because we have been able to, apparently by chance almost, find drugs in those trucks. We know that there’s medical waste that’s in those trucks where we’ve been able, just by luck, to find a shipment of that. But we’re talking about chemical, biological materials being placed into waste — municipal waste — not by the Canadian government, obviously — not with their knowledge or consent, but by someone who wants to do damage to us, and there’s no effective way to inspect them.

And we’re going to ask for your department to either give us an unclassified report, which will say what’s in this classified or official- use-only report, and in any event to support language in our law which will tell Canada sorry, we are not able to practically inspect that waste; you’re going to have to keep your waste and find a dump site for it yourself.

This has become a sensitive political issue in the state of Michigan; a new bill was introduced in the Michigan state legislature on the subject today. According to a Supreme Court case in 1993, states cannot impose their own bans on cross-border trash without legislative authorization from Congress.

If the DHS IG found some real security concerns with the potential for trash trucks to be used to ship drugs or hazardous materials, then I think it is appropriate to bring the border security angle into this argument. Chertoff told Levin that he would take a closer look at the report; it will be interesting to see what effect the report has on this long-standing political debate.

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