You are here

Mike's blog

On the Dirty Energy Policy Front

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

While Energy Justice Network's work is mainly focused on helping you win grassroots victories, we've had to weigh in on some state and national policies that would have major consequences for how many bad ideas need to be fought. Misguided policies aiming to limit coal or climate pollution continue to push (fracked) gas and biomass/waste incineration as false solutions. We encourage you to look over some of the well-documented comments we put together and to borrow from them in your own work, as needed. 

EPA's CO2 Rule for New Fossil Fuel Power Plants: thank you to the nearly 600 of you who responded to our action alert in May, telling EPA that loopholes for "clean coal" / carbon sequestration, natural gas, biomass and waste incineration are unacceptable! 

Department of Energy Subsidies for Incinerators: a Solyndra-related program to provide billions in loan guarantees to renewable energy and energy efficiency would subsidize trash and biomass incinerators and biofuels, even though the program is required to fund only technologies that reduce greenhouse gases. These technologies are among the worst greenhouse gas emitters! Within just six days, over the 3-day Memorial Day weekend, we pulled together 131 groups on a sign-on letter challenging this, including about 100 grassroots or state/regional groups from 27 states plus DC and Puerto Rico as well as about 30 national / international groups, including some of the big greens: Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA and Sierra Club.

COMING UP: EPA's CO2 Rule for Existing Fossil Fuel Power Plants: this rule just came out this week, and is riddled with loopholes as we expected. We're concerned that this rule does far too little (nearly 2/3rds of the reductions required by 2020 over 2005 emissions levels were already accomplished without any rule!), and that it could do more harm than good by encouraging a switch from coal to fuels more polluting than coal for the climate, like natural gas and biomass/waste incineration. Biomass is 50% worse than coal for the climate; trash incineration 2.5 times worse.

The plan also would keep open risky and dangerous old nuclear power plants that the industry recently decided it wants to close, and subsidize the building of new reactors, sucking up the money we need for a genuine transition to clean energy. Coal is already on the decline without a CO2 rule due to activism and geology (we've used much of it up and the remainder is getting too expensive to extract). This rule is so weak that it'll do less than what would happen anyway, but could make things worse if we don't beat down these false solutions.

EPA's Waste-to-Fuels (WTF) Deregulation: We're working with Earthjustice and the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA) to figure out how to stop this dreadful trend to redefine wastes into unregulated "fuels" that can be burned in any of about one million boilers in the nation's industries, schools, hospitals and other businesses.

In the States: We've commented and testified on several flawed energy and waste bills in Maryland that would encourage biomass and waste incineration, none of which passed by the end of this year's session. We've also recently commented on Maryland's incinerator-friendly draft Zero Waste Plan and filed comments on New York's new Energy Plan.  Feel free to borrow from our comments in your own advocacy.  We're also working with the Washington, DC City Council to ban styrofoam and adopt a zero waste plan that would start curbside composting, make electronic waste recycling more responsible, and end the city's use of incinerators.

Money-burning Incinerator Proposed


April 1, 2014

DUNBORO - George Washington Renewable Energy is proposing the nation's first money-to-energy facility, right here in Dunboro. Critics call it a money-burning incinerator.

Nearly all of the nation's used money is sent to landfills, but George Washington Renewable Energy sees an opportunity and hopes to generate enough electricity burning old dollars to power 50,000 homes.

Linda Thompson, recent mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, takes offense at calling this the first. In 2011, Harrisburg was the nation's largest city to go bankrupt, thanks to a trash incinerator that drove the city deep into debt. Her city lost out in a bidding war for this new project. "Harrisburg deserves to host this innovative incinerator. We have more experience burning money than any city in the nation," Thompson said.

In 2003, when Thompson was on City Council, the city's incinerator had already lost money nearly every year for a decade, but she voted to support the mayor's plan to go further into debt to rebuild it, saying that God told her to support Mayor Reed's incinerator plan. "I've consulted God on how to get Harrisburg back out of bankruptcy," Thompson said, "and what better way than to fuel a new incinerator with bills saying 'In God We Trust?'"

Dr. Paul Connett, a retired chemistry professor from St. Lawrence University, and world-famous advocate against incinerators, say that God is on his side. "God Recycles... the Devil Burns," says Connett. "Used money should be recycled."

Ann Leonard, of Story of Stuff Project, points out that paper bills are "designed for the dump" because other materials are mixed in, making it hard to recycle. "Money is a perfect example of a product that must be redesigned for recycling," she says.

Dunboro residents aren't pleased with the idea. They've formed Dunboro United against Money-Burning (DUMB), to fight what they call a stupid idea. Trash incinerators are the most expensive way to dispose of waste or to make energy, says Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network, who helped Dunboro residents form DUMB. DUMB's website argues that it's insane to literally feed money to an incinerator: "It's bad enough that we pay incinerators to burn valuable materials in trash, but fueling them with dollars is just nuts."

"Money doesn't grow on trees, you know.  We must protect our forests," says Samantha Chirillo, coordinator of Energy Justice Network's Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign.

Rachel Smolker, of Biofuelwatch, points out that dollars are actually made mostly from cotton, and is concerned about rumors that Monsanto plans to genetically-engineer cotton plants to produce dollar bills as leaves.

Bob Cleaves, of the Biomass Power Association, takes issue with this. "Expired money is renewable energy," says Cleaves. "We're working to add money-burning to biomass definitions in renewable energy mandates in several states right now. It was an oversight not to have included it when these laws were first passed."

Maryland Governor O'Malley supports this stance, and plans to have Maryland be the first state to define money-burning as renewable. "We already have the nation's best renewable energy incentives for burning trash, poultry waste, tires, sewage sludge and more. Money was just the logical next step," he says.

George Washington Renewable Energy also cites support from Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen. In a recent press release in support of the project, Yellen stated that "money is renewable... we'll make more."

Mark Robinowitz, host of the "Peak Choice" website, thinks Yellen is wrong. "Money has peaked!" he says. "Our economy cannot grow forever on a finite planet. We need a steady state economy." He thinks that we're running out of money, and thus, fuel for the George Washington Renewable Energy facility.

Dunboro officials are still pressing on. "Our city, and the state and federal government, still seem overrun by old money," says Dunboro's mayor. "We don't see an end in sight and want to put this resource to good use."

Maryland Seeking to Becomes the Nation's Burn-Capitol

Maryland's state legislators are at it for a four year in a row, pushing bills that would increase trash and biomass incineration in their state and region. In 2011, the state became the first, and only, to put trash burning in competition with wind power in its renewable energy mandate. Now, over half of the energy used to meet their renewable energy law is from smokestack technologies.

If you're in Maryland, or can share this with those who are, please help us get groups and individuals signed onto this Environmental Community Statement on Maryland's "Renewable Energy" Bills. The legislative session goes until April 7th, so we have six weeks to make sure that none of these misguided energy and waste bills are passed unless they're significantly cleaned up. Email Mike to get involved.

VICTORY: Hazardous Waste Incinerator Defeated in Bucks County, PA

A politically-connected new company hoped to sneak an application through during the holidays for a 60 ton/day hazardous waste incinerator in Bristol Township, near Philadelphia, PA. Once word got out late last year, political opposition grew fast and furious. People packed local government meetings to overflowing.

Energy Justice director, Mike Ewall, who grew up in the adjacent township, presented at a packed local zoning board hearing last month, following the company's 2-hour presentation, tearing down the company's misinformation. One of the most appalling aspects of their misinformation was their presentation of (extremely low) projected air emissions, which represented only the emissions from the small amount of natural gas they'd burn to start the burners up, without presenting any data on the pollutants from burning the waste itself.

The incinerator would have burned alcohols and solvents, cleaners, paints, medicines and pharmaceuticals, aerosols, pesticides, herbicides and adhesives. It would have been located right next to a Dow Chemical plant, in a community already suffering from decades of chemical pollution.

Local politicians were falling over themselves to oppose it, and neighboring local governments, including those across the river in New Jersey, took positions opposed to the incinerator. Today, the company chose to withdraw their application for a zoning change. With the political winds against this company in all of the neighboring towns, it seems that this heavily industrialized corridor is saying "enough is enough" and is sending this incinerator proposal packing in short order. We will continue to work with local activists to ensure that local clean air ordinances are in place to protect these towns from any future proposals for incinerators.

Special thanks to Don Mobley, whose local political efforts made all the difference.  While the company is talking like they might come back with a new application, it's clear that they have nothing to come back to but an even more organized community and to local politicians who want nothing of it.  As we prepare the nails for the coffin of this short-lived incinerator proposal, it's clear that it's already dead on arrival.

See news articles on this on our mapping site's page for this facility.

This is our third major incinerator victory of 2014, and many more are expected this year.

Methane's Global Warming Potential makes Gas worse than Coal for Climate

We just updated our page on natural gas with links to the latest studies showing that methane is far more potent for global warming than EPA considers it. Next time you're hearing how much natural gas is a transition fuel or that it's better than coal -- or that landfill gas should be burned for energy (which releases more methane than collecting and flaring it!) instead of keeping organics out of landfills -- bust out these studies to show that methane isn't just 21 times worse than CO2... it's 86-105 times worse! That's because we need to look at it over 20 years instead of 100 and account for the latest science showing that it's more potent than we thought, even over the same time frames.

VICTORY: Environmental Justice and Zero Waste Win over Increased Trash Burning in Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis residents have just stopped the planned expansion of the trash incinerator in their city, and have set their county on the path to zero waste! The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC), is capable of burning 1,212 tons of trash a day, but has been limited by permits to burning 1,000 tons/day. The county has been seeking to expand this to burn the full 1,212 tons/day, but just withdrew their request under pressure from the community.

Community organizers made this a defining issue in recent elections and shifted the political climate, getting a majority of Minneapolis City Council and the mayor to oppose the expansion. The county is now moving toward zero waste, with a requirement to start curb-side collection of organics for composting. This new path has some city officials already talking about eventually closing the 25-year old incinerator for good.

Congratulations to Lara Norkus-Crampton RN (Minneapolis Neighbors for Clean Air), Karen Monahan (Sierra Club), Nancy Hone (Neighbors Against the Burner), Alan Muller, Josh Winter (MPIRG), State Rep. Frank Hornstein, Congressman Keith Ellison, Neighbors Organized for Change, and other community leaders who made this victory possible.

Energy Justice played a small role, visiting with local activists last year and supporting them with information, including research showing that this incinerator has the 3rd worst racial disparity in the industry.

This is incinerator victory #2 for 2014, following the last month's victory against the tire incinerator in White Deer, PA. Many more to follow. Stay tuned!

For more info on this victory, see:

Tire Burner Stopped in White Deer, PA!

First major victory of the year... a community we've been supporting since October 2011 to stop a planned tire incinerator just won! In White Deer Township, Union County, Pennsylvania, En-Tire Logistics proposed the White Deer Energy Project, which would have burned tires to power the National Gypsum plant next door. The company pulled out of the project, withdrawing their state permit. See the news here: Tire burner project terminated in Union County. Thanks to Organizations United for the Environment and the Tire Burner Team for their great work on the ground! We'll be working with them to get a local ordinance passed to ensure that this can't ever happen again.

Baltimore students rally against giant waste incinerator

Yesterday, we joined the high school students in Baltimore for their excellent 100-strong march/rally against a plan for the nation's largest waste incinerator, planned by Energy Answers within a mile of their school in one of the nation's most polluted zip codes. It would burn 4,000 tons/day of trash, tires, shredded cars and wood waste, not far from the nation's largest medical waste incinerator and in the same city as the largest of three trash incinerators that already exist in Maryland.

We were joined by 16-year old Kaya Banton (on right in bottom photo) from Chester, PA, home to the largest existing trash incinerator in the U.S. (burning 3,400 tons/day of waste right across the tracks from residential homes).

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

- by Mike Ewall

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.

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.


Subscribe to RSS - Mike's blog