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As of April 1, 2016, The Biomass Monitor is no longer affiliated with Energy Justice Network.

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Maryland, Maryland, Quite Contrary-land

Since 2011, Maryland has been notorious for being the only state to classify trash as equivalent to wind power in a renewable energy mandate. Over half of the "renewable" energy used to meet the mandate still comes from smokestacks at paper mills, landfills, trash, and biomass incinerators in 12 states spanning New Jersey to Wisconsin to Tennessee.

For the past few years, we've been warning that expanding a dirty renewable energy mandate without first cleaning it up would mean trouble. In recent years, Maryland has faced plans for two large new incinerators, which were closer to reality than any in the nation. These fully permitted incinerator proposals both fell to defeat after five and eight year grassroots efforts. Destiny Watford, a Baltimore resident who got involved while attending the high school within a mile of the proposed Energy Answers incinerator, just received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership in that battle.

Despite these high profile incinerator battles, the Maryland Climate Coalition (a coalition of mainstream environmental groups, led largely by Chesapeake Climate Action Network) chose to keep pushing to expand the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) while declining to support the parallel effort to first remove smokestack technologies from the mandate. The bill we drafted to clean up Maryland's RPS was introduced with strong support from the Maryland Chapter of Sierra Club, and many of us testified at hearings on the bill, which was aggressively opposed by the incinerator and paper mill industries.

While our legislation was handily shot down, we did a lot to educate legislators and build momentum for next year. As the RPS expansion bill passed, an amendment to strip trash incineration out of the law came within one vote of passing! This is a good sign for next year, especially as both major trash incinerator proposals in Maryland are now dead, and the smallest of three existing incinerators just closed for good in March.

The data for 2015 just came out, showing that
wind power declined for a second year in a row, while dirty "renewable" energy increased again, with biomass use nearly doubling while black liquor burning at paper mills also increased, though use of trash incineration thankfully fell.

Victory: Stopped a bad bill!

In related legislative efforts, the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority was the subject of a battle we won. The Authority has been the driver behind existing and proposed waste incinerators in Maryland. In 2015, we worked with Caroline Eader and Frederick, Maryland residents (who fought off the Authority's incinerator proposal in an 8-year battle) to pass a bill redefining the Authority's mission to be about zero waste. The Authority objected and we came within one vote of passing the bill. In 2016's legislative session (that ends in early April each year), the Authority pushed a bill to expand their powers, pretending they were about "resource recovery parks," but seeking to be able to bond a wide range of waste and energy facilities, including many dirty technologies, while bypassing state utility approval processes.

Energy Justice staff, Dante Swinton and Mike Ewall, were the only ones to testify at the hearing before the Maryland Senate Environmental Committee. The Authority testified that "waste-to-energy" (incineration) is not politically or economically viable in Maryland, and insisted that they're a service organization to their member counties and that they'd follow the lead of the legislature if they prescribe a zero waste hierarchy.

The Senate committee then took the zero waste hierarchy straight from our testimony and amended that language into the Authority's bill. Within a day, the Authority interfered and replaced our zero waste hierarchy with EPA's waste hierarchy that includes incineration and puts it above landfilling, yet still branded it a "zero" waste hierarchy. This dreadful bill passed the Senate unanimously.

With help from Sierra Club and other allies, we beat back the bill in the House, with spectacular skepticism expressed by Maryland Delegates at the hearing where we all denounced the bill. In the course of all of this, we developed some good momentum to beat back incineration and push for true zero waste in the 2017 session.

Zero Waste Hierarchy

You’ve probably heard the term Zero Waste before, but not been sure about what it meant. 
 
The peer-reviewed definition of Zero Waste by Zero Waste International Alliance involves “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.”
 
Notice the last part disqualifies burning or burying waste. Unfortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still includes incineration (“energy recovery”) in their Waste Management Hierarchy, a concession to the incineration industry that makes achieving zero waste impossible.
 
Like it or not, there is a landfill at the back end of any waste system. There are three main options for what to do with the waste we fail to eliminate:
Incineration (and landfilling ash) is the most polluting and expensive option
Direct landfilling is bad, but preferable to incineration
Digestion before landfilling is the best option, so that the remainder is stabilized to avoid having gassy, stinky landfills.
 
The last is part of the zero waste approach, minimizing the volume, toxicity and nuisances of landfills. Incineration includes experimental gasification, pyrolysis, plasma and trash-to-ethanol schemes), where the toxic ash, slag or other residue still must be landfilled—unless they try to get away with something really inappropriate, like pretending ash is a useful building material, or dumping digested trash on farm fields.
 
After years of careful study, Energy Justice Network has designed its own Zero Waste Hierarchy, with each of its ten steps summarized below (and in the graphic).
 

Spatial Justice Tests

- by Aaron Kreider, Energy Justice Network 
 
One of the main goals of Energy Justice Network's Justice Map project is to demonstrate the role that income and race play in the siting of dirty facilities. You can use Justice Map (by clicking on Advanced Mode) to analyze the race and income of people who live within, say, 1 mile of a facility and compare it to those who live further.
 
If you have a set of facilities (or anything else) that you want to analyze, we have also created a Spatial Justice Test. You can apply this test to our data set of power plants, and answer questions like "Who lives near operating trash incinerators?" Or you can use the test on your own data set.
 

Waste Done Right

- by Ruth Tyson, Energy Justice Network
 
In 2012, Americans disposed of 251 million tons of trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Story of Stuff Project neatly lays out the way materials move through our economy from extraction to production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Most consumers don’t think beyond the “consumption” step. Once the undesirable mess is tossed from households, it might be considered “out of sight, out of mind” as long as it’s not seen or smelled. But where does it all go? Where should it all go?
 
With the finite space for landfills running out, discovering ways to deal with our waste problem is imperative. The trash incineration (a.k.a. “waste-to-energy” or WTE) industry would like to persuade the public that they're the answer. However, incinerators cause more problems than they solve, and are the most expensive way to manage waste or to create energy. Incineration reduces every 100 tons of trash to 30 tons of toxic ash that must be disposed of landfills.
 

Families Get $4 Million For Fracking Water Contamination

In March, a federal jury awarded a total of $4.2 million to two families from Dimock, Pennsylvania whose drinking water wells have been contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas when drilling for natural gas. 
 
"It's been a battle," said plaintiff Scott Ely, co-plaintiff with Ray Hubert, in a lawsuit against Cabot filed in 2009. "You're up against a multi multi multi million dollar company. We are the lucky ones in the case, but there are still many more families in the Dimock area who are still without the benefit of clean water.” 
 
“This is a huge victory for Dimock families who have been fighting for clean water for over six years," said Alex Lotorto, Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network. "Finally justice has been served."
 

Constitution Pipeline Permit Denied

- April 22, 2016, Energy Justice Network
 
On April 22, the New York Department of Conservation refused to issue a water quality permit for the Constitution Pipeline, a 124 mile pipeline that would've carried natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania to New York State.
 
Accompanied by heavily armed U.S. Marshals wearing bulletproof vests, a Constitution Pipeline crew began cutting down the Holleran family’s sugar maple stand on March 1. North Harford Maple is a family business owned by Cathy Holleran that produces maple sap and syrup. Cutting was completed on March 4.
 

How To Reduce Premature Deaths Linked to Environmental Risks

[Phasing out combustion-based energy such as fossil fuels and biomass energy can save lives]
 
– by Nancy C. Loeb and Juliet S. Sorensen, April 8, 2016, Truthout
 
Millions of deaths around the world are preventable every year without any additional spending on research for treatment. And the cause has nothing to do with gun violence or war.
 

Baltimore Incinerator Proposal Permit Yanked

On March 17, the permit for the Energy Answers trash incinerator planned for the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland was declared invalid by the Maryland Department of the Environment, capping years of protest from local residents and a student-led organization, Free Your Voice, part of United Workers.

Maine Towns Vote Whether to Burn Trash or Make Biogas

Actually, there's a third (and better) option and it's called Zero Waste.
 
- by Andy O'Brien, April 7, 2016, The Free Press
 
On March 31, 2018, it will no longer be economical for midcoast towns to send their household trash to the  Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) incinerator in Orrington. That’s the date when the facility loses a lucrative energy contract to sell its electricity at above market rates. With PERC out of the picture, two nonprofits are bitterly competing for thousands of tons of midcoast waste. 
 
In one corner is the Municipal Review Committee, a municipal cooperative serving PERC’s 187 user communities and governed by representatives of its member towns. After determining that PERC was too expensive to continue running, the MRC developed a proposal with Maryland-based fiber-to-fuel company Fiberight and waste-to-energy giant Covanta to build a $67 million waste-to-biogas processing plant in Hampden. Fiberight claims it will be able to convert 100 percent of the organic material in the waste stream into compressed natural gas by using an anaerobic digestion process. In order to secure financing for the project, it needs a commitment from at least 80 percent of PERC’s user municipalities. 
 
In the other corner is Ecomaine, a municipally owned nonprofit that operates a waste-to-electricity trash incinerator in Portland. MRC would charge a $65-per-ton disposal fee and  Ecomaine would charge $70.50 per ton. But unlike Ecomaine, MRC offers its communities ownership benefits that would give member towns energy rebates from the biogas it would sell in future years. With Ecomaine, midcoast towns would only be contracted customers. 
 

Energy Information Administration: Trash Incineration About Disposal, Not Energy

The federal government's U.S. Energy Information Adminstration puts to rest the idea that "waste-to-energy" facilities exist to create electricity, instead admitting that their main function is to dispose of trash, with electricity as a byproduct.
 
 
At the end of 2015, the United States had 71 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that generated electricity in 20 U.S. states, with a total generating capacity of 2.3 gigawatts. Florida contains more than one-fifth of the nation's WTE electricity generation capacity, and in 2015, Florida's Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility Number 2 became the first new WTE plant to come online since 1995 and the largest single WTE electricity generator in the United States.