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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.

See more at http://www.energyjustice.net/md

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).
 

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.
 

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.
 
 

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.

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