VICTORY against Maryland's "Waste Portfolio Standard" -- the Latest Creative Way to Prop Up Incinerators

- by Mike Ewall

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"92","attributes":{"alt":"Burn, Baby, Burn Incinerator Monster image","class":"media-image","height":"455","style":"width: 250px; height: 300px; margin: 5px; float: right;","width":"379"}}]]What does an incinerator industry do when they can't compete?  Change the rules.  Biomass and trash incinerators are the most expensive way to make energy, and trash incineration costs more than directly landfilling the waste.  These industries survive to the extent that they can change the rules to get monopoly waste contracts, become 'renewable' energy in state mandates, or as we're seeing in Maryland: worse.

In 2011, Maryland became the first state to change their state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law -- a law that mandates "renewable energy" use -- to move trash incineration from the dirtier "Tier II" to the not-quite-as-dirty "Tier I" (where wind and solar, but also biomass and landfill gas compete).  Many states with RPS laws have two tiers, where the cheaper, already-built, and dirtier technologies (usually trash incineration and big old hydroelectric dams) are put in a second tier menu of options where the credits are cheaper, and in Maryland's case, where the mandate gets phased out over time.  Putting trash incineration in the same tier as wind power creates a much larger and growing market with more valuable credits.  Since this, several other states have seen proposals to do the same.

In 2013, Maryland tried to set an ever worse precedent.  Covanta (the nation's largest waste incinerator corporation) wrote a bill that gets more creative: a municipal solid waste portfolio standard.  Taking the notion from renewable energy laws, this law would phase in a 50% recycling goal, but also phase out direct landfilling of waste.  By doing so, the law would create a strong incentive to incinerate waste before burying the ash.  Zero waste, as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance, means diverting as much waste as possible (90%+) from both landfills AND incinerators.  However, the incinerator industry has managed to hijack the "zero waste" idea by pushing this "zero waste to landfill" rhetoric which many cities and corporations are mimicking -- which really means "toxic ash to landfills."

On April 8th, the Maryland legislature came very close to passing this awful precedent, but thanks to work by Community Research, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Energy Justice Network and 13 other groups who lent their name to opposing this bill, it died a quiet death in the state House after passing the state Senate earlier in the last day of the 2013 legislative session.  Covanta's lobbyist was fuming and we can now focus back on stopping the two large new waste incinerators planned for the state, without worrying that they'll be propped up by yet another pro-burn state policy.  Keep an eye out for this tactic in your state.

Biomass Battle Casts Spotlight on Environmental Justice

Sometimes what seems like defeat in the short term can actually turn out to be victory in the long run. One such case involves the opposition to the construction of Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power incinerator in Eugene, Oregon. While the facility fired up its smokestacks for the first time in 2011, the effort to educate neighborhood residents about the health threats of the industrial polluter morphed into a powerful environmental justice movement in the low-income community surrounding the facility.

Allentown Residents for Clean Air bring Incinerator Issue to the Voters

An experimental trash and sewage sludge incinerator, planned in the heart of the Hispanic community in the City of Allentown, Pennsylvania is being challenged by Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA). The group just submitted over 2,000 signatures to put a Clean Air Ordinance we wrote on the November ballot as an initiative. If this ballot initiative passes, Delta Thermo Energy will have to comply with strict requirements to do real-time monitoring of many toxic pollutants, and will have to disclose the data on a website real-time. They'll also have to control their emissions so that they are as clean as a gas-burning power plant of the same size.  Considering that the company is appealing the most minimal requirements set by the state, it's unlikely that they'll proceed to build the incinerator if they have to comply with real standards for accountability.  Read on for the group's press release or check out a flyer summarizing the issue and the Clean Air Ordinance.

San Francisco reports record 80% diversion rate

This is from October 2012, but still worth celebrating. We keep dealing with communities where local officials want to pursue incineration (not realizing that it's the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to dispose of waste) while they haven't even tried to get serious about zero waste programs (redesign / reduce / reuse / recycle / compost). San Francisco is leading the way, having managed to hit 80% diversion of waste from landfills and incinerators. Other communities, like Austin, Texas, have developed ambitious zero waste plans as well and find them economically viable even while competing with super-cheap landfilling fees of only $20/ton.  Read on for the news from San Francisco: