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A fallout on federalism in radioactive waste case (New York v. United States)

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Quimbee: New York v. United States

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One of the most important United States Supreme Court decisions on federalism and the division of governmental power, New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992), is all about garbage, specifically, radioactive waste.

After World War II, Congress began allowing private industry to get more involved in developing nuclear energy. However, the regulatory regime did not cover the disposal of radioactive waste. The result was that only three states – South Carolina, Nevada, and Washington – had facilities for disposing of such waste.

In the late 1970s, after a temporary shutdown of the Washington and Nevada sites, South Carolina could no longer keep up. Thus, in 1985, Congress passed the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act. The act offered monetary incentives to states who opened in-state disposal sites or entered regional agreements for waste disposal. Further, states that failed to do either could be denied access to out-of-state facilities and forced to take title to the waste, as well as accept any resulting liability.

New York failed to join a regional compact or open its own disposal site. The state sued the federal government, arguing that the act was unconstitutional. In striking down part of the act, the Supreme Court issued one of its most studied rulings on the nature of federalism and the Tenth Amendment.

 

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