Public Lands, Dirty Energy

- by Josh Schlossberg, Energy Justice Now

Grassroots advocates have done a bang up job alerting the American public to the disturbing health and environmental impacts of the extraction, transportation, and generation of dirty energy (fossil fuels, nuclear power, and biomass/trash incineration). Greenhouse gases, air pollution, and water contamination from energy sources requiring smokestacks or cooling towers have become common knowledge to all but the willfully ignorant.

However, to achieve a critical mass of action that will influence public policy and shift private investment away from energy sources that cause more harm than good, dirty energy opponents must find common threads to weave the fabric of the movement together.

One such thread involves the harmful impacts dirty energy poses to the forests, prairies, and deserts on public lands that belong to every U.S. citizen.

Musical Chairs

All too often activists fighting one sector of the dirty energy industry will ignore — and occasionally advocate for — yet another type of dirty energy, invalidating many of the very concerns they profess, confusing the public, and harming the overall movement.

For instance, when anti-coal campaigners give a pass to biomass energy, the coal industry gets away with toasting trees in their coal-fired power plants. By endorsing (or allowing) biomass incineration, anti-coal activists contradict their own talking points about air pollution from coal, since trees or other forms of “biomass” actually emit higher levels of deadly particulate matter per unit of energy than the dirtiest fossil fuel. Ironically, a coal facility that starts burning biomass may result in the facility operating longer than it would have otherwise —  continuing to burn more coal along with trees.

The same dynamic is at work when biomass energy opponents insist that natural gas would be a better fuel to burn in a power plant. How can the public, policymakers, and the media take biomass busters’ worries about climate and watersheds seriously when they are in favor of an energy source that leaks vast amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas that is eighty-six times more potent than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period  — and can be responsible for groundwater contamination through hydraulic fracturing?

Or how about organizations that oppose fossil fuels because of threats to health and the environment while turning a blind eye — and in some ways opening the door — to the riskiest method of energy generation in the world: nuclear power?

In the long run, the lack of a unified dirty energy resistance allows industry to keep proposing facilities in towns without organized resistance to a particular fuel source — a kind of musical chairs where, when the music stops, no chairs are missing. 

Common Ground

Despite the valiant efforts of dirty energy opponents, climate change, air pollution, groundwater contamination, and forest destruction keep getting worse while the corporations who perpetrate these environmental crimes upon the American people keep getting stronger. Whatever we’re doing obviously isn’t working; it’s time to circle the wagons.

The key to movement solidarity is finding common ground between anti-fossil fuels, anti-nuclear and anti-incineration efforts. One such strategy — and by no means the only — literally involves finding “common ground”: public lands. While the extraction, transportation, and generation of dirty energy occurs mainly on “private” land, the exploitation of each energy source also impacts National Forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tracts, and other publicly-owned lands.

The nuclear power industry mines uranium on BLM lands while pushing to dump their deadly radioactive waste in places like Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which includes public land.

An increasing percentage of fracking for natural gas takes place on BLM lands, as does some coal mining. Alaska BLM lands are routinely drilled for oil, and despite BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, offshore oil drilling continues. When the energy profiteers aren’t bleeding public lands for fossil fuels, they’re building pipelines through it. 

Meanwhile, more and more acres of National Forests and BLM lands are being logged to fuel polluting biomass incinerators, with the biomass and timber industry exploiting the fear of wildfire and insects to “get out the cut” before and after these naturally occurring events.  

And no matter the energy source, industry wants to hack transmission lines through our public treasures.

Come Together — Right Now

Each separate component of the dirty energy resistance — anti-fossil fuels, anti-nuke, anti-biomass/trash incineration — has tried going it alone with individual campaigns pointing out the ills of one dirty energy source, and pretending the others don't exist. While there’s been some positive traction over the years, the only way we’re going to get up the mountain is through mutual support.  

Extraction-free public lands solidarity is just one of many ways to link the movement together. 

Biomass Lease Terminated by Jasper Clean Energy in Indiana

- by Matthew Crane, April 21, 2014. Source: Dubois County Free Press

Dr. Norma Kreilein, her husband, Mike, Alec Kalla and Rock Emmert were all in session during the Jasper Utility Service Board (USB) meeting Monday night — the eve of Earth Day — when it was announced that Jasper Clean Energy would be terminating the lease to create a biomass power plant in Jasper.

John Rudolf, a freelance writer covering a story for Notre Dame Magazine about Dr. Kreilein — a Notre Dame alumni — and her organization’s battle against the City of Jasper for the past two-and-a-half years, sat by himself in the public seating. Rudolf’s pedigree includes the New York Times and Huffington Post, where his stories gravitated towards environmental and political issues.

Are Climate Claims for Burning Renewable Trees a Smokescreen?

- by Robert McClure, April 21, 2014. Source: The Tyee/Investigate West

Nestled into a seaside forest on the University of British Columbia's lands, amid a carpet of sword ferns and salal, sits a gleaming industrial facility that's been hailed as a significant step toward a carbon-neutral future for B.C., Canada and even the world.

The wood-gas fired plant just off Marine Drive in Vancouver, the university boasts, "will reduce UBC's natural gas consumption by 12 per cent and campus greenhouse gas emissions by nine per cent (5,000 tonnes), the equivalent of taking 1,000 cars off the road."

"It's very exciting," said Brent Sauder, UBC's director of strategic partnerships, who helped shape plans for the plant. "It's not a research activity -- it's a mission."

That mission is to replace finite, climate-baking fossil fuel with renewable wood to generate electricity. It sounds so darn cool: UBC students charging their iPods on solar energy stored in wood.

Ethanol Plant at Buffalo Lake, MN Cited

- April 14, 2014. Source: KDUZ/KARP

St. Paul, Minn.– The ethanol plant in Buffalo Lake formerly owned by Minnesota Energy is in the process of correcting water and air quality permit violations, and must pay a $10,000 civil penalty, according to an agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

In October 2012, Renville County officials reported a “white discoloration” in a section of Judicial Ditch 15 downstream from the plant. An MPCA inspection revealed that contaminated stormwater and cooling tower wastewater had been discharged to the ground, causing a storm pond to overflow, and eventually flowing to Judicial Ditch 15. The inspection also noted that the plant had failed to meet permit requirements for observing discharge limits, monitoring, and reporting.  

A New Kind of Pipeline…for CO2?

[Pipelines aren't just for fossil fuels anymore. -Ed.]

- by Russell Hubbard, April 12, 2014. Source: Omaha World-Herald 

A Wyoming oil company told Nebraska ethanol producers Friday that a $1 billion carbon dioxide pipeline across the state would mean up to $50 million a year in new revenue for them.

Scott Hornafius, president of Elk Petroleum, said such a pipeline would buy some or all of the CO2 produced by the state’s 24 ethanol plants and ship it to Wyoming, where it is needed for injection into oil wells. The CO2 helps drillers extract almost as much oil as the initial strike, about 17 percent of the well’s total.

Incinerators are NOT "waste-to-energy" facilities

Note to Journalists and Activists:
Incinerators are NOT "waste-to-energy" facilities

Words Mean Things

Any journalist seeking to be accurate and objective should never call an incinerator a "waste-to-energy" facility. Journalists and environmentalists should not spread the confusion by repeating this public relations term.

The term "waste-to-energy incinerator" should be replaced with simply "incinerator" or "[waste type] incinerator" (like "municipal solid waste incinerator"). Even if the "waste-to-energy" term were accurate, it's like saying "incinerator incinerator" rather than describing what is being incinerated.

There is no such thing as waste-to-energy. "Waste-to-energy" is a public relations term used by incinerator promoters, but is not an accurate term, scientifically, as there is no such thing. In the bigger picture, they're waste-OF-energy facilities.

Scientifically, there is no such thing as "waste-to-energy." Matter cannot be turned into energy without a nuclear reaction, and thankfully, that's not what is happens with incinerators. What is actually happening is that waste is turned into toxic ash and toxic air emissions while a small fraction of the energy in the waste is recovered in the process.

In the environmental advocacy community, we've come to call them "waste-OF-energy" facilities because we know that recycling and composting the same discarded materials saves 3-5 times as much energy as incinerators can recover. This was first documented in 1992, and the basic laws of physics haven't changed since then.[1] It's self-evident, as all of the energy it takes to make paper, for instance (cutting trees, trucking them to a paper mill, burning coal to power the mill, shipping the paper around more...) isn't all present in the paper itself, as much of it went up the smokestacks at the mill or the tailpipes of the logging and trucking equipment. Recycling the same paper saves that energy by avoiding new extraction and production.

What is an incinerator?

Dictionary definition: Incinerator - noun - a furnace or apparatus for burning trash, garbage, etc., to ashes. (

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's legal definition:

Municipal waste combustor, MWC, or municipal waste combustor unit: (1) Means any setting or equipment that combusts solid, liquid, or gasified [municipal solid waste] including, but not limited to, field-erected incinerators (with or without heat recovery), modular incinerators (starved-air or excess-air), boilers (i.e., steam-generating units), furnaces (whether suspension-fired, grate-fired, mass-fired, air curtain incinerators, or fluidized bed-fired), and pyrolysis/combustion units.[2]

Elsewhere, EPA confirms that a "municipal waste combustor" is the same thing as a "municipal waste incinerator."[3]

From this definition, we see that various types of burners, including those that most insist that they are not incinerators (namely, pyrolysis, gasification and plasma arc facilities) are indeed incinerators. The European Union has similar legal definitions that make it clear that pyrolysis, gasification and plasma technologies are indeed incinerators.

Is it an incinerator or a power plant?

The industry prefers to be seen in a more positive light: as power plants, not as waste disposal facilities. Nearly all trash incinerators produce (nominal amounts of) energy. Energy production does not make them stop being incinerators. Waste incinerators make more money being paid to take waste than they make selling energy. According to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration, trash incineration is the most expensive type of electricity production to build or operate, so no energy company in their right mind would choose trash burning as an economical way to make energy.

Ted Michaels, president of the trash incinerator industry's trade association, the Energy Recovery Council, admitted on camera in testifying before Washington, DC City Council on March 18, 2013 that "waste-to-energy" facilities (incinerators) are primarily waste facilities, not power plants. This was in response to our testimony stating that trash incinerators are the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to dispose of waste, where Energy Justice director, Mike Ewall, documented how much dirtier they are than coal power plants. In response, Ted Michaels admitted that incinerators are more expensive than landfills and that they're dirtier than coal power plants. The only way he could wiggle out of the comparison to coal plants is to admit that "a waste-to-energy plant is designed to manage solid waste... the electricity output is a secondary function."[4]

Further evidence that incinerators are waste facilities and not power plants can be found in the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association's 2013 comments challenging an incinerator's permit and in this 2010 internal memo among Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection staff, spelling out that the largest trash incinerator in the nation is classified as a waste facility, not an energy generating facility, for regulatory/permitting purposes.

Energy Justice Now: A Forum for Dirty Energy Opponents

Since 1999, Energy Justice Network has worked with communities across the U.S. to oppose every kind of dirty energy facility — from coal and natural-gas fired plants, to nuclear reactors, to biomass and trash incinerators — to protect human health and the natural world that keeps us alive.

While countless pollution pushers have been run out of town by local grassroots resistance over the years, proposals for new filth factories — some even under the guise of “green” energy — keep coming hard and fast. A lack of nation-wide solidarity across the anti-dirty energy movement dilutes our power to eventually put the dirty energy opportunists out of business altogether.

To that end…In June 2014, Energy Justice Network will be launching Energy Justice Now — a first-of-its kind publication reporting on the entire spectrum of the dirty energy resistance and highlighting the voices of community organizers battling fossil fuels, nuclear power, and biomass and trash incineration from sea to shining sea.

Energy Justice Now will unite the many voices of our movement into one loud roar demanding clean air, pure water, a livable climate, and a truly sustainable economy.

Stay tuned for June 2014 and the birth of Energy Justice Now — because clean energy can’t come out of a smokestack! 

Are Dirty Energy Opponents NIMBY? Proving Industry Wrong [The Biomass Monitor - April 2014]

April 2014 issue of The Biomass Monitor: Are Dirty Energy Opponents NIMBY? Proving Industry Wrong

In this issue of The Biomass Monitor (the world's leading publication tracking the health & environmental impacts of "biomass" energy):

-"Are Dirty Energy Opponents NIMBY?"

-"Vermont: The Little State that Could?"

-"Maryland Dumps Incineration"

Please share the April 2014 issue of The Biomass Monitor with your friends, colleagues, and neighbors!

For back issues of The Biomass Monitor, more information on the health and environmental impacts of biomass energy, or to get involved, go to:  

NEW STUDY: Air Pollution Good for Lungs


- by Fiske Sterling, April 1, 2014. Source: TBN News

A new study out of Miskatonic University in Rhode Island has concluded that air pollution, specifically particulate matter, can repair damaged lung tissue.

The scientific consensus up until this point had been that particulate matter — the byproduct of combustion from power plants and automobiles — can penetrate deep into the lungs, the bloodstream, and other organs to cause a number of debilitating ailments from asthma to diabetes.

The study, Long Term Exposure to Particulate Matter 2.5 Shows Alveolar Tissue Regeneration, has turned conventional wisdom on its head in regards to the human health impacts of air pollution.

“All these years we have assumed that particulate matter caused inflammation and lung disease,” said Franklin Corrigan, M.D., lead study author and Chair of the Miskatonic University Medical Center. “We now have reason to believe that it’s a cure.”

The Nodbury Medical Association sent out a press release this week announcing “The End of Asthma,” reporting that hospitals across the nation are already in the development stages of experimental treatments involving the inhalation of particulate matter for those suffering from asthma and COPD.

Where once patients with lung disease were brought to remote locations in rural areas to recover from their ailments, they may now be sent into residential communities in close proximity to coal-fired and biomass power plants and trash incinerators such as Virginia City, Virginia, Burlington, Vermont, and Detroit, Michigan.

The coal, biomass energy, and trash incineration industries reacted with jubilance. “For years, our industry has been maligned as ‘dirty’ and ‘polluting,’ been libeled in the press by environmentalists and shackled with one government restriction after another,” said Sylvia Rathness of the Clean Coal Institute for Advancement. “Now the truth has come to light, we will be entering a golden age for combustion-based technologies.”

Environmentalists had mixed reactions to the implications of the study. “As responsible voices for reason, we have rarely spoken out against power plants, and in many cases advocated for some forms of the technology,” said Martin Spender of This Green Planet, an international environmental organization based out of Washington, D.C.  “We hope that the industry will continue to work hand in hand with us to move forward with a common sense approach that will further benefit public health and the economy.” 

Radical voices that have long opposed “dirty” energy sources are in a state of remorseful shock following the release of the study, many of whom have already officially disbanded their organizations. “All these years, we thought the anti-dirty energy movement was protecting people,” said Shari Randall of the Earth Breath Alliance based in Bellingham, Washington. “We had no way of knowing that we were actually doing them harm…My God, what have we done?” 

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."


Subscribe to Energy Justice Network RSS