Bioenergy's Water Footprint

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

In 2005, thermoelectric power plants (nuclear, coal, oil, gas and trash/biomass incinerators) were responsible for 41% of all freshwater withdrawals and 49% of total water withdrawals (including oceans and brackish waters) in the U.S. Much of this water (mainly used for cooling) is returned to local water bodies, but at a higher temperature, which can be harmful to aquatic life. A large portion is also evaporated, so total water consumption is still quite significant.

A typical 50 MW plant requires 700,000 to 900,000 gallons of fresh water a day for cooling. About 85% of this is evaporated, draining rivers and aquifers. The balance is returned to the river as a heated solution containing concentrated pollutants like aluminum and phosphorus.

Some biomass incinerators have sought to use sewage effluent (the liquids that are separated out at a sewage treatment plant) as cooling water. Sewage effluent is a highly contaminated solution containing disinfection byproducts, metals and numerous classes of discarded and excreted biologically active chemicals such as active pharmaceutical ingredients and personal care products, endocrine disrupting compounds, mutagenic cytotoxins and others.These pollutants can contaminate the air when that water is evaporated. Whatever isn’t evaporated will concentrated in the wastewater that the biomass facilities release into local water bodies.

Air cooling is an alternative to water-based cooling, but is noisier and more expensive. Some state regulators have allowed water cooling based on company claims that air cooling is cost prohibitive.

Growing crop-based biomass also requires a lot of water. The biomass industry favors trees and wood waste it doesn’t have to grow, but of the available energy crops, quick-growing, high-yield plants like Miscanthus are preferred. Such crops are also quite demanding. 

A review of the Miscanthus-burning biomass incinerator proposed for Jasper, Indianafound that Miscanthus is a thirsty crop, requiring irrigation in areas like Southern Indiana, where rainful is insufficient and global warming is worsening droughts. The research found that Miscanthus is not drought-tolerant, even for a single season, and that without irrigation, Miscanthus’ yields are variable/low. However, it is unlikely that irrigation of Miscanthus will be economically viable, since biomass production must be low cost and low input, and establishment of a Miscanthus crop requires expensive transplanting of plantlets.

Because Miscanthus has a deep, dense root mat, extending far deeper than corn roots, it sucks up more water and dries out soil more than corn or soy.European researchers have expressed concern that Miscanthus production may prevent ground water restoration and diminish groundwater.

Eviction of Mobile Home Park for Fracking Water

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network
 
Riverdale Mobile Home Park was located on the Susquehanna River in Piatt Township, Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Residents were ordered to leave the park in March 2012 by Aqua PVR LLC, a project of Aqua America, a private water utility, and Penn Virginia Resources, a natural gas pipeline company. 
 
The property was purchased in order to build a water withdrawal pump station and water line that would withdraw three million gallons per day for use in hydraulic fracturing by Range Resources, a Texas-based Marcellus shale drilling company. Each shale gas well requires five to nine million gallons of water to force open the rock, allowing the gas to flow out.
 
Aqua America's facility takes 6,000 water truck trips off the road each day, according to Aqua America, which displaced truck drivers, parts suppliers, fuel deliverers, mechanics, and service employees from their jobs in Lycoming County. The Marcellus shale industry hasn't proposed any relief, solution, or alternative to this loss of employment opportunities for Pennsylvania residents. 
 
The facility's two permits were approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a federal commission made up of Governors Corbett (R-PA), Cuomo (D-NY), O'Malley (D-MD), and President Obama.
 
The capacity of the park was 37 units and in March 2012, 32 families lived there. The initial offer from Aqua America included $2,500 for residents to move by April 1 and $1,200 for residents to move by May 1.
 
Immediately after the tragic story of Riverdale hit the press with the help of volunteers, Aqua America extended the deadline for $2,500 in compensation until June 1st.
 
A series of town halls, vigils, and picnics were organized by residents with some help from volunteers from around northeast and central Pennsylvania in opposition to the project. Residents and allies even held protests at Aqua America's headquarters in Bryn Mawr, at their shareholder meeting, and in front of Aqua's CEO Nick DeBenedictis' mansion in Ardmore.
 
Unfortunately, many residents felt forced to leave the park for reasons including fear of losing the $2,500 offer, uncertainty of what Aqua would do on June 1, and termination of their leases.
 
At the time of the final vigil on May 31, only seven families remained at Riverdale. Those families invited and hosted volunteers from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states that evening to stay until morning when construction was scheduled to begin in an effort dubbed "Hands Across Riverdale."
 
They issued the following demands:
We demand that Aqua America sit down with the residents and their representation to negotiate in good faith a fair deal that...
1. Permits the remaining residents to stay living at Riverdale Mobile Home Park.
 
2. Provides those residents who have left with just compensation to cover their expenses.
 
3. Allows for the return of all residents who have left and wish to return.
 
On June 1, no construction vehicles came and road barricades boldly stated, "We Will Fight For Our Homes" and "Aqua America Kills Community." The following day, Aqua America sat down to negotiate with three pro-bono lawyers representing residents at the company headquarters in Bryn Mawr. A tentative agreement was reached and the residents were informed of the terms the following week. 
 
Details of that agreement are not publicly available at this time but it did include a "gag order," or non-disclosure agreement forbidding the residents and their children from speaking about the incident.
 
For a total of 12 days, Riverdale blossomed once again behind the barricades, despite all the suffering already endured. Volunteers joined to cook, run security shifts to prevent looting, move sheds, salvage building materials, plant a garden, provide child care, leaflet Jersey Shore and Williamsport, and to blast the story of Riverdale all over social networks.
 
On the twelfth day, Aqua America sent a subcontracted security firm to secure the site. Activists blocked the road in defiance, demanding that Aqua America continue to negotiate with residents in good faith. State police arrived on scene and ordered the protesters to move. There were no arrests. A chain link fence across the front of the park was constructed and later, a barbed wire fence surrounding the pump station construction area was added.
 
Rund the clock security guards were stationed at the front of the park, which was lit with light towers resembling a prison. Construction is proceeding even with the seven families remaining at Riverdale, including four young children. Finally, the $10,000 raised through online crowdfunding helped the residents move and relieved those who had already left with some financial burdens.
 
Former residents are scattered around the area. Many of the seniors were forced from independence into senior care centers. Some moved their homes to less desirable and more expensive parks, some are renting more expensive apartments and mobile homes, some are on the low-income housing waiting list, and others are staying with family and friends.
 
The story of Riverdale illustrates how little the gas companies, the governors, and President Obama care about the livelihoods of poor people when it comes to fossil fuel extraction.

VICTORY! DC Denies Exelon-Pepco Merger

DC's Public Service Commission just shot down the plan for the nation's largest nuclear utility, Exelon, to buy Pepco, the electric utility that services the Washington, DC area and a few neighboring states.

This is a huge victory for ratepayers and the environment, since Exelon wanted to have the extra millions of ratepayers to push the high cost of their aging nuclear reactors onto. They also have been hostile to renewable energy.

We played a small role in this, alerting people in DC to the hearings in the past year, and testifying at three of them. However, the major credit goes to the Power DC coalition, and the many people and groups who came and spoke out about this awful deal. Thanks to all who make this victory possible! DC was the last hope, as neighboring states have already approved the merger. For more info, look for updates on www.powerdc.org and www.facebook.com/PowerDCNow

AUDIO: Energy's Water Footprint in the Western Drought

Drought in the western U.S. is in the news every day, yet most media coverage ignores the impact from water withdrawals for industrial power facilities. While municipal and agricultural use are major drains on limited water resources, so too are biomass, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power facilities. 
 
On August 20, The Biomass Monitor spoke with Stacy Tellinghuisen, Senior Energy/Water Policy Analyst with Western Resource Advocates, about the findings of her report, "Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity," discussing the water demands of electricity generating power facilities and lower-impact alternatives.
 

If You Build It, They Will Cut

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Generating biomass energy doesn’t result in more logging, according to the biomass industry, whose spokespersons claim facilities only make use of “waste” wood already coming from existing logging operations.

Ron Kotrba, Senior Editor for Pellet Mill Magazine, wrote in the May/June 2015 issue that biomass is the “most unlikely of the forest products to drive the general practice of forestry in the U.S.”

Kotrba believes that the notion of biomass “driving forestry practices in the U.S. is a purposefully deceptive scare tactic used by some in an attempt to influence the perceptions of policy makers and the public.”

Chris Matera, director of Massachusetts Forest Watch, a grassroots forest advocacy group based in Northampton, has long warned that “wood fueled biomass energy will add tremendous pressure, and further degrade already stressed forests.”

“Existing wood-fueled biomass facilities already cut and burn enormous amounts of whole trees for fuel,” said Matera, “and any new facilities will only add more logging pressure.” 

Clearly, opinions differ among the biomass industry and its critics, leaving the question: do biomass energy facilities increase logging?

Federal and state agency personnel, along with members of the biomass industry, have made statements demonstrating that the construction of a bioenergy facility is likely to result in a local increase in logging, including in National Forests, by opening an additional market for the sale of trees that might have otherwise been left in the forest to grow.

Brad Flatten, Stewardship and Timber Sales Specialist for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, was quoted in “Wood Supply Assessment for Commercial-Scale Biomass Power Cogeneration and Biomass Utilization Projects in Central Washington,” saying the establishment of biomass energy facilities in Washington state “may provide a market for small-diameter material typically generated from fuels treatment…and potentially increase the number of treatment acres.”

In other words, controversial “fuel reduction” logging projects, which many scientific studies suggest aren’t effective at reducing the likelihood of a large wildfire, may expand in scale if a biomass energy facility will purchase the trees.

Biomass energy, said Eric Lamfers of the Washington Department of Natural Resources in the “Wood Supply” document, “affords treatment of areas that normally could not be treated without market-based opportunities.” This statement also makes it evident that some Washington forests would be left unlogged without the existence of biomass energy facilities.

Wind River Biomass, a combined heat and power biomass energy facility proposed for Stevenson, Washington, plans to source trees from the nearby Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

A biomass gasification project in North Fork, California that would burn trees to create electricity, heat and biochar would also increase logging, including in the Sierra National Forest, according to a May 6, 2015 article in the Sierra Star.

Jim Branham, executive officer for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, one of the entities behind the North Fork facility, was quoted as saying that biomass projects such as his are “key to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration and protecting our forests and communities from large, damaging wildfires.” Once again, a biomass energy facility is acting as a driver for more “fuel reduction” logging projects.

While some biomass energy facilities spur logging in anticipation of the natural process of wildfire, other facilities trigger logging after a burn. For example, a new biomass facility in Kauai drove the cutting and burning of 15,000 tons of pine and eucalyptus trees in Kokee that wouldn’t have been logged otherwise, according to March 5, 2015 article in the Washington Times.

An April 4, 2015 article in Timberline reported that Watertown, New York-based wood chipping company, Pala Wood Service Company, “had all but stopped chipping [trees] due to a lack of a customer base for that product.” Yet, according to Pala Wood’s owner, Bruce Strough, the recent opening of ReEnergy Black River, a 60-megawatt biomass power facility in Fort Drum, “represented an opportunity to get back into the market.”

As more biomass energy facilities are built across the U.S., including ones in close proximity to National Forests, only time will tell whether we’ll see a resulting uptick in logging proposals, as biomass opponents warn. But, if statements by those working on the ground to advance bioenergy are accurate, more logging specifically to fuel these facilities is probable.  

When Zero Waste is Environmental Racism

- by Kaya Banton, Chester Environmental Justice

 

My name is Kaya Banton and I have been a resident of Chester, Pennsylvania all of my life.  Chester is a small city right outside of Philadelphia known as one of the worst cases of environmental racism.

 

There are a number of polluting facilities in and surrounding Chester. The most famous is Covanta, the nation’s largest waste incinerator, burning 3,510 tons of trash per day. Though Covanta is the largest incinerator in the country, they have the fewest pollution controls of any incinerator in the nation. Within a mile of Covanta, 80% of the population is black. Only 1.5% of waste being burned at Covanta comes from Chester. The rest comes from wealthy suburban areas of Delaware County, Philadelphia, and New York.

 

Covanta is the largest polluter in Chester and one of the largest in all of eastern Pennsylvania.  Due to the pollutants from Covanta and other industries, many people in Chester have cancer, asthma, and other horrific diseases. I know entire families that have asthma or cancer. Both my mother and my little sister developed chronic asthma after moving to Chester. The childhood asthma hospitalization rate in Chester is three times the state average.

 

With research and organizing support from Energy Justice Network last summer, community members went door to door last year and packed city hall twice, winning a unanimous vote of the planning commission, recommending that city council shoot down plans for the rail box building to receive New York City's steel trash containers. Unfortunately, city council voted in favor of Covanta because they did not want to get sued. Covanta was permitted to bring New York’s trash by rail, which will put them at full capacity. A big concern from the council was the amount of trash trucks coming through the city. Covanta said that since the trash will be coming by rail, the truck traffic will be decreased majorly, but even though residents made it clear that the trash containers will be taken through Chester by train to Wilmington, Delaware then back into Chester by truck. This will not decrease truck traffic, but will only increase pollution by adding train traffic.

 

I did some research and found out that New York’s zero waste plan is actually a “zero waste to landfill” plan that locked in 20 to 30 years of burning waste in Chester, making the impacts of my city invisible while New York gets the benefit of looking green. I was incredibly confused as to how New York City environmental justice groups could celebrate the announcement of a zero waste plan that allowed waste to be burned in Chester. We give toxic tours of our community upon request for those wanting to see what we experience on a daily basis.  

 

We invite anyone, especially those from Philadelphia and New York, to contact us for a tour.

WE WON!! Environmental Justice Victory in DC, as Mayor Pulls Incinerator Contract

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

We just stopped Washington, DC from approving a $36-78 million contract that was awarded to Covanta to burn the District's waste for the next 5-11 years.

In a rigged bidding process, the city allowed just four incinerators (no landfills) to bid to take 200,000 tons of waste a year. The one of the four that is in a rural white community does not accept out-of-county waste, leaving three incinerators in heavily populated communities of color as the only ones eligible to bid. The contract was awarded to Covanta's incinerator in Lorton, VA -- 4th largest in the nation and one of the largest polluters in the DC metro region. Lorton is the 12th most diverse community of color in the nation, and is also home to a sewage sludge incinerator and three landfills.

As I documented in an article last year, DC's waste system is a glaring example of environmental racism, from where the waste transfer stations are, to where much of it ends up in Lorton. On the way to this latest victory, we got the large (389 living unit) cooperative where I live in DC to change its waste contract to disallow incineration, a tiny step toward starving the Covanta incinerator. Now, we have a chance to shift the entire city away from incineration. I hope we can also repeat this in Philadelphia as their Covanta contract (for burning in Chester, PA) comes up for renewal in each of the next few years.

We did our homework and made a strong case, got diverse allies on board, educated and pressured DC city council, and flattened Covanta's 11th hour lies. Energy Justice Network was joined by 20 environmental, public health, civil rights and business organizations in calling on city council not to move the contract to final approval, and ultimately, our new mayor withdrew it from consideration, killing it.

The city will now have to cut a 1-year contract (hopefully not with any incinerator, if we can help it). This buys us time to convince city leaders that incinerators are indeed worse than landfills and that we need to resort to landfilling as we get the city's zero waste goals implemented, including digestion of residuals prior to landfilling.

Last summer, we helped pass a law that bans Styrofoam and other food service-ware that isn't recyclable or compostable, gets e-waste and composting going, and requires the city to come up with a zero waste plan (and we got it amended to ensure that incineration is not considered "diversion," but "disposal"). We're at a good crossroads in DC, where we can get the nation's capital setting good examples. The long-standing head of the Department of Public Works is stepping down, giving the city a chance to replace him and others anti-recycling incinerator zealots in the agency with real zero waste leaders. Any good candidates are encouraged to apply here.

EJ Victory! Taking Responsibility for Where Your Trash Goes...

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

I’m excited to open this issue by sharing our first victory of its kind: stopping a major city (Washington, DC) from signing a long-term incineration contract that was expensive, polluting, unhealthy, and racist.

The worst thing that can happen with your waste is for it to be burned. We’ve found this to be the case with waste from Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York City, where trash ends up being burned in some of the nation’s largest and filthiest incinerators – in communities of color in Lorton, Virginia and Chester, Pennsylvania that are already heavily polluted by a concentration of dirty industries.

These major cities have closed incinerators within their borders many years ago, and DC, New York and Los Angeles are among many that have examined and rejected the idea of building their own new incinerators in the last few years. However, they have not been shy about sending waste to be burned in other communities.

The zero waste term is being hijacked by these cities, auto companies, Disney, and others claiming “zero waste to landfill” goals. This term is a code word for “incinerate our remaining waste and pretend the toxic ash doesn’t still go to landfills.” Leading zero waste consultants and activist allies are even now greenwashing these schemes through certification and membership in bodies like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. Just last month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a zero waste resolution that includes a waste hierarchy that, like EPA’s, places incinerators above landfilling, driving more misguided city decisions to opt for incinerators.

Our victory in DC shows that environmental justice allies in a major city can take responsibility and stop their waste from being burned, as we chart the way to true zero waste strategies.

As the last few articles in this issue show, there are conflicts between waste strategies among grassroots activists in New York City. What started as an effort to have fair distribution of transfer stations within the city resulted in the worst possible outcome for environmental justice: a 20-30 year contract to send much of the city’s waste to be burned in Covanta incinerators in Niagara Falls, NY and in Chester, PA. Our efforts to stop the trash train plan on the Chester end failed last summer, and efforts are still underway in Manhattan to stop one of the two transfer points that would feed waste to Covanta’s incinerators, but aren’t looking good.

Unfortunately, NYC Mayor de Blasio’s “One New York” plan, announced this past Earth Day, is a “zero waste to landfill” plan that masks the city’s intent to keep burning its waste in facilities that would never be accepted within the city. The Covanta contract contains clever “put-or-pay” provisions that ensure that NYC pays for waste transportation to Covanta incinerators even if zero waste efforts are so successful that the city doesn’t have enough waste to give. Will the city even come close to its zero waste goals, and if so, will they suck up the penalty of paying for a service they no longer need, or will budget constraints keep NYC poisoning people with incinerator pollution?

Transform Don't Trash NYC

- by Gavin Kearney (Environmental Justice Director, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest) & Eddie Bautista (Executive Director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance)

New York City’s homes and businesses generate anywhere from 6 to 8 million tons of mixed solid waste every year – more than any other city in the country. And the manner in which it manages that waste is rife with injustice – a few NYC communities of color play host to numerous truck-intensive transfer facilities, while other communities of color as near as Newark and as far as Virginia and Ohio then receive NYC’s waste for landfilling and incineration. For over a decade we have been working with environmental justice advocates and other allies in NYC to address these issues. We have achieved some important incremental victories over pitched opposition. But much remains to be done. 

Ultimately, if it is to do right by Environmental Justice (EJ) communities, NYC needs to greatly diminish the amount of material it exports for disposal and build local recycling infrastructure while minimizing community impacts, creating a safer workplace for waste workers, and reducing environmental harms.  To build the will for this within the City we are working to expand the local discussion around solid waste to encompass worker well-being, economic development, climate change, fair treatment for small businesses, and, of course, environmental justice. This is the focus of our current, ongoing campaign for solid waste reform – Transform Don’t Trash NYC.

New York City Outsourcing Incineration

- by Dara Hunt

Congratulations to Energy Justice Network and other organizations on stopping a Covanta contract to incinerate DC waste in an Environmental Justice community. 

Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in stopping New York City’s plan, and a 20-year contract with Covanta Energy to transport and burn 800,000 tons per year, or more, of New York City’s putrescible waste in poorly filtered Covanta incinerators in Chester, PA, and Niagara Falls, NY.

This disposal strategy is part of New York City’s 20-Year, 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP). The SWMP didn’t set aggressive waste reduction goals for New York City or establish concrete plans to reform the City’s inadequately regulated private waste industry.  A modest, 25 percent recycling target set in the SWMP has never been achieved – the City’s recycling rates remain at abysmal levels: 15-16 percent for City collected waste and around 24 percent for privately collected waste. Instead, the SWMP focused on building large and expensive, single-purpose waste transport facilities and long-term contracts to move waste to distant disposal sites.   

Many of us believe the plan’s focus on investment in new buildings and 20+ year waste transfer and disposal contracts takes the City in the wrong direction – tethering us to the lagging, high waste volume status quo. New York City needs to implement price incentives to create better waste behavior. We need aggressive goals and programs to help residents, businesses and government agencies reduce or divert much more waste. And the City needs to clean up private waste industry vehicles and operations through better regulation and oversight. 

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