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Lady Liberty welcomes your tired, poor and huddled masses. She says nothing of soiled diapers, pizza boxes and Labatt Blue bottles.
Yet Michigan lawmakers are concerned Canada is treating their state as its personal waste heap, with dump trucks crossing the border from Ontario to take advantage of Michigan's bargain-rate landfills. In hopes of discouraging the trek, they're introducing legislation in Congress that would charge the Canadians exorbitant fees for bringing their garbage stateside.
The proposal from Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin follows an agreement struck five years ago with Ontario to stop shipping municipal waste to Michigan. But that agreement excluded trash from private commercial sites, something the new proposal seeks to address.
"Senator Levin and I were able to stop Ontario's city waste from being dumped in our backyard, but now it's time to stop the rest of the trash coming across the border," Stabenow said in a written statement. The bill, co-sponsored by Levin, is called the "Stop Canadian Trash Act."
Canadian truck drivers currently pay just $5 at the border to bring their trash to Michigan, and most of them are not screened, according to Stabenow's office. The proposed law would raise that border fee to $500. The money would go toward inspections by U.S. Border Patrol. Drivers would have to provide U.S. customs officials with the details of their shipments or face a $10,000 fine.
Part of the concern is security. A 2006 report from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general showed Canadian trash trucks were found to be carrying in "medical waste, illegal drugs and illegal currency."
Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano told FoxNews.com that the commercial waste, which continues to flow across the border, is also far more likely to contain hazardous material. Plus he said the parade of Canadian trash trucks "takes a toll" on local Michigan roads, and suggested the arrangement doesn't do much good for Michigan's image.
"I'd rather be much more known for the automobile than the trash capital," Ficano said.
Business and trade organizations in Ontario did not have any comment on the proposal. A representative with the Toronto Board of Trade said only that the group is looking at it.
But some might choose to blame Michigan for setting itself up as an international landfill destination. The state creates a financial incentive for Canadians to bring their trash across the border. Not only is the border fee just $5, it charges just 21 cents for every ton of trash. By contrast, Wisconsin charges $12.99 per ton.
Prices at Canada's landfills are much higher. They range from about $64 (U.S. dollars) per ton of commercial waste in Windsor to upwards of $100 per ton in Ottawa.
Stabenow's office estimates the previous agreement with Ontario municipalities stops about 1.5 million tons of trash from coming into the state every year. But that represents just 40 percent of Canadian garbage coming into Michigan. The rest comes from factories and other sites with private garbage collection.