Incinerator Victory in Muncy, Pennsylvania!

Just in time for the holidays, residents of the rural town of Muncy, PA just had their local borough council pass into law a set-back distance ordinance we wrote. It prohibits any new facilities requiring a state air pollution or waste permit from locating within 900 feet of an occupied dwelling, school, park, or playground.

This effectively blocks Delta Thermo Energy, a company we've been fighting for several years, having stopped them in 2014 from locating in the City of Allentown, PA. They planned to take 100-200 tons per day of trash and sewage sludge, turn it into "fuel pellets" through a "hydrothermal decomposition" process, then incinerate these waste pellets on-site. Of course, their magical process exploits an EPA loophole, allowing this waste not to be considered a waste anymore, so they can be regulated less strictly -- as a boiler or power plant, not as an incinerator.

They came to Muncy, PA in the summer of 2016, proposing the same, but after facing resistance, the proposal soon became one to just make the pellets, and market them to be burned in coal power plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. EPA's Clean Power Plan, and their Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials ("waste = fuel") rule incentivize this. While the Clean Power Plan is dead for now, the other incentives may continue, and could encourage coal plants to stay open longer than they otherwise would, and become dirtier by starting to burn waste without additional pollution controls.

Delta Thermo Energy has been unusually tenacious. Most companies give up after one or a few times being rejected. We expect to have to beat them again soon, as rumor has it that they may be looking at more sites near Muncy. They brag about having 22 local governments interested between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and we know of several that have already rejected them. Keep an eye out, and be in touch with us if they (or any other polluters) are coming your way!

Don't try this at home... without our help.

We'd love to work with other communities to get protective local ordinances passed to stop proposed or potential polluters, or to even set stricter requirements for existing facilities where possible. Please be in touch if you'd like to work together on this approach in your community. Do not simply copy ordinances we've had passed elsewhere. While most of the Muncy ordinance is as we proposed, some good things were removed or kept out, and it could have been stronger in some regards. Every community is different, so feel free to check out the resources we have on stopping polluters with local ordinances, but contact us to help develop a strategy that makes sense for your situation. Thanks!

Mapping Change in Median Household Income

I recently updated the Income Layer on Justice Map to use the latest 2011-2015 American Community Survey data.

You can view the data by county or by census tract (roughly 4000 people). While census tracts provide higher resolution that helps us identify areas of environmental injustice, unfortunately the confidence interval is much larger. So there is a lot of noise in the data. If you are looking at the income layer and see a random checkerboard of blue and red - that is noisy data.

As part of this process, I added a Income Change layer that shows the change in median household income between the first period (2006-2010) and a second period (2011-2015).

It is easiest to see the trend in changing income by looking at the counties. The census tract data is even noisier than the regular income data, as the confidence interval is approximately twice as large. However where there are strong trends - like gentrification in DC and Philadelphia you can easily see them at the tract level.

Click on the map to learn how income has been changing in your community!

Change in Median Household Income

Where U.S. Energy Comes From:

Want to know where U.S. energy currently comes from? Check out this new series of charts we just updated, based on data through August 2016, with projections for all of 2016. Find all of them here:

U.S. Energy Sources


Here are some of the highlights:

  • Overall energy demand peaked in 2007. Energy demand is broken down into electricity, transportation and heating sectors. Electricity and transportation sector energy use also both peaked in 2007. Heating sector peaked in 1970.
  • Oil, gas, then coal are still our top three energy sources, followed by nuclear in 4th place.
  • Coal use is falling dramatically, while gas use is rising dramatically. In 2012, gas overtook nuclear as the second largest electricity source after coal. Gas will soon overtake coal as well.
  • As we predicted, the largest sector of natural gas use is now for electricity (overtaking the industrial heating sector), as we're in the middle of a second wave of construction of gas-fired power plants, with at least 300-some proposed in recent years, many of which are now online. We still import more LNG than we export, so the gas market is largely feeding electric power plants, not exports.
  • Despite several nuclear reactors closing in recent years, nuclear energy use is steady and slightly increasing (existing plants are being run harder).
  • Wind and solar are growing fast, but are still small.
  • Bioenergy is still the largest form of "renewable" energy, even though it's dirty, and worse for the climate than coal. Thankfully, it's stagnating since 2014 and stopped its rapid increase.
  • Heating fuel use is down a lot since 2014, probably due to global warming and record high temperatures, since it's mostly residential and commercial heating. Industrial heating (the largest part of it) hasn't fallen much in that time.
  • Biomass incineration peaked in 2014 and is now falling, thanks in large part to our activist network fighting off so many proposed facilities. Wood for home heating is falling fast, which is also good.

See more at

Incinerator Victory in Prince George's County, Maryland!

Robin Lewis
Robin Lewis,
Energy Justice Network Organizer

Prince George's County, Maryland -- the nation's wealthiest African-American county, just outside of Washington, DC -- has been courting waste incinerator companies to build a new facility in a community that already has multiple landfills and the state's only sewage sludge incinerator.  Energy Justice Network has been campaigning against this for the past year.  Last month, the county formally withdrew the contract process, abandoning the project altogether!

The contract process in Prince George's County was the result of the county contracting with the notoriously pro-burn solid waste consultants, Gershman, Brickner & Bratton (GBB).  The county spent over $200,000 for GBB to lead them toward a who's who of "waste-to-energy" vendors of every stripe, which got narrowed down to seven, including the two largest incinerator corporations, Covanta and Wheelabrator, plus some companies with experimental technologies such as trash-to-ethanol.  At the end of the day, the county's urgent need for an alternative to their landfill (which was supposed to close by 2020) disappeared as they found they have room until at least 2027, given increased recycling, composting and other positive Zero Waste efforts that divert trash from the landfill.

Energy Justice Network initiated a "Don't Burn Trash in Prince George's County" campaign to inform and engage the public in the activities of the County on this waste-to-energy trash disposal procurement process.  Working with individual activists and other environmental organizations such as Progressive Prince George's, Greenbelt Climate Action Network and the Prince George's Sierra Club, the County officials received numerous requests not to move forward with the Request for Proposals, the next step in the process, which was scheduled to begin in September 2016.

On August 9th, the County decided to cancel the Waste-to-Energy Request for Qualification solicitation, stating in the final notice that "IT HAS BEEN DETERMINED THAT THE PROJECT MAY NOT BE IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE COUNTY AT THIS TIME."

The County says it will now schedule public input sessions on the County's Zero Waste Plan.  Last year, the County commissioned SCS Engineers to develop a Zero Waste Plan and a Waste Characterization study of the county's waste.  The Plan and the Study are due to be released to the public some time this fall.  We're working to get the County to develop a comprehensive Zero Waste Plan (a plan that follows our Zero Waste Hierarchy, and does not include burning).

Supporting the fight for Zero Waste Solutions: Robin Lewis is an African-American resident and environmental justice activist in Prince George's County whose work we need to support as we move the county away from incineration and toward genuine zero waste solutions.  If you can help support her work, please donate here:

This victory holds some major significance for environmental justice, for trends in Maryland, and around the country:

Environmental Justice Significance: Prince George's County, Maryland is the nation's wealthiest African-American county.  This reinforces the trend that we've documented across dirty energy and waste industries in the U.S. where race is more of a factor than class in terms of where polluting industries are located.  The county is home to the state's only sewage sludge incinerator, multiple landfills and asphalt/aggregate industries, a huge coal/gas power plant, and a cluster of three gas power plants on the way.  The proposed new "waste-to-energy" project (likely an incinerator of some sort) would have been located near the county's landfill and sludge incinerator, in the same place an incinerator was fought off about 30 years ago.

Maryland Significance: Maryland has been on the front lines of incinerator wars.  The state is still the only one to put trash incineration on par with wind power in a renewable energy mandate, where a majority of the state's "renewable" energy has come from biomass and waste burning, and landfill gas burning.  The state has also seen the most significant victories against incineration in the past decade.  Two large proposed incinerators got all of their state permits and yet were defeated by concerted opposition in the past few years, in Frederick and Baltimore.  One would have been the nation's largest, at 4,000 tons/day.  Also, earlier this year, the smallest of three remaining trash incinerators in the state (in Harford, MD) closed for good.  We still have two large incinerators and the nation's largest medical waste incinerator to close down, two of which are in Baltimore, and we're campaigning to close them.

National Significance:

This could happen to you!  GBB has consulting arrangements with city and county governments around the nation.  Unfailingly, they propose "waste-to-energy" vendors.  In Prince George's County, they drafted the Department of Environment's Request for Qualification (RFQ) to pursue waste management solutions from corporations to build one of these types of facilities in the County: incineration, trash-to-ethanol, refuse-derived fuel (trash pellets to be burned in area power plants), or trash composting using "gasification, anaerobic digestion, or other conversion method producing a fuel or energy product, such as electricity, syngas, synfuel, chemicals, steam, useable heat, and/or other commercial energy outputs."

Of the 16 respondents to the RFQ, the County selected the following 7 companies in March 2016 to be on the short list: Abengoa Bioenergy, Covanta Energy, LLC, Mustang Renewable Power, Prince George's County Waste To Energy Recovery Partners, Repower South, LLC, Shanks Waste Management Ltd., Wheelabrator Urbaser, S.A.  While the proposals were not made public, our research into these companies shows that they offer conventional incineration, gasification, trash-to-ethanol, refuse-derived fuel (trash pellets), and anaerobic digestion for municipal waste, with the digested trash either being used as fertilizer or burned for fuel.

Energy Justice Network has an ongoing open records case to try to make this information public.  In the City of Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Energy Justice led the fight that stopped an incinerator just two years ago, GBB is now contracting with the city, pursuing the same sort of "waste-to-energy" contract process.  Allentown, unlike Prince George's County, released the RFQ responses for public review.  The basics of the proposals were released to reporters and can be viewed here:

GBB brags on their website that they're consulting with these governments:
-Prince William County, VA
-Rutherford County and the City of Murfreesboro, TN
-Lee County, FL

We know of others we suspect they're consulting with as well.  Please reach out to us for support to beat back incinerator threats in your community.


Maryland, Maryland, Quite Contrary-land

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"548","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"287","style":"width: 333px; height: 199px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo:","width":"480"}}]]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

Zero Waste Hierarchy

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"546","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 400px; height: 289px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]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
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"547","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"367","style":"width: 450px; height: 367px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"450"}}]]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

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"544","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"386","style":"width: 366px; height: 294px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Cartoon: John Cole","width":"480"}}]]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. 

Constitution Pipeline Permit Denied

- April 22, 2016, Energy Justice Network
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"543","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"269","style":"width: 333px; height: 187px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo:","width":"480"}}]]On April 22, the New York Department of Conservation refused to issue a