|Thermal "Waste-to-Energy" (a.k.a. Incineration) Opposition Builds
December 2011 - Volume 2, Issue 7
|Environmental Justice opposition to industry's push for incineration in New York has begun to grow. Last week, New Yorkers won a significant victory when Covanta Energy - which operates four "waste-to-energy" incinerators on Long Island and another in Newark - withdrew its petition asking state regulators to qualify such plants for "renewable energy" subsidies. Such subsidies could have diverted millions of dollars away from true renewable energy projects - like solar and wind - to underwrite garbage incineration projects statewide. NYC-EJA joined environmental and public health advocates in challenging Covanta's petition.|
Environmental and public health groups - with one glaring exception - are united in our opposition to New York City official's ill-considered flirtation with thermal incineration technologies. Under the euphemism of "waste-to-energy", industry lobbyists and their apologists have begun a full-court press to sell new, untested thermal technologies for "pilot" projects in the nation's densest urban center.
At a recent panel on "waste-to-energy", even cynical supporters of thermal-based technologies could not gloss over troubling realities with "21st Century" incineration. Some of those gems included:
- Pollution emissions - a spokesperson from the City's Health Department acknowledged that thermal waste-to-energy projects generate pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and others. Environmental justice advocates have long known these facilities generate pollution levels comparable with coal-burning power plants, including carcinogens tied to increases in asthma, cardiovascular disease and premature morbidity among the elderly and infants;
- European models - thermal waste-to-energy apologists predictably pointed to European countries that include "modern" incineration plants as part of their waste management. However, European countries with waste-to-energy have recycling rates ranging from 40% to 60% - compared to NYC's anemic 15% recycling rate - which means the waste processed in their plants is much cleaner than what a NYC plant would process. Cynical soundbites that NYC should explore waste-to-energy and recycling programs simultaneously (i.e. walk and chew gum at the same time) ignore the reality that such an approach would mean unacceptable pollution levels for host communities that could wait for decades for recycling rates to increase - which might not ever occur, if the City pursues thermal processes. (Perhaps New Yorkers can walk and pump asthma inhalers at the same time, too?)
- New Yorkers as guinea pigs - Panelists admitted there are no commercial scale gasification or pyrolysis incinerators operating in the U.S. Experimenting with these new technologies in a densely populated area such as New York City is unnecessary and risky.
- Scale? - Thermal advocates constantly complain about NYC's waste export costs and how thermal processes could rein in costs. Really? The scale of NYC's waste stream dwarfs other cities, making such claims hollow. For example, a recent WTE incinerator approved for Copenhagen called Amagerforbraending will cost $575 million and will burn up to 560,000 tons of trash annually. NYC produces 532,000 tons of waste every two weeks (14 million tons/year).
Bottom line? In terms of environmental and public health impact, fiscal prudence and jobs creation, recycling continues to be NYC's first and best option. City officials should stop wasting time and money pursuing risky technologies in favor of a robust low-tech, high-yield recycling system.
|A Campaign for Our Harbor: |
Good news! The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance has been
made a Steering Committee Member of the NY-NJ Harbor Coalition, a
bi-state group of urban advocates who have joined forces to transform
the region's waterfront to better meet the needs of one the nation's
most ethnically and economically diverse areas. Our region includes 22
million residents, a wealth of cultural and historic resources - and a
host of longstanding environmental justice challenges. To address these
concerns the Coalition seeks to galvanize grass-roots support and
advocate for the critical federal resources needed to create a clean,
healthy and sustainable harbor that provides equitable economic and
recreational opportunities for all.
NYC-EJA's particular emphasis in the Harbor Coalition will be our Waterfront Justice Project, NYC's first citywide community resiliency campaign. We will push for federal support to make NYC's waterfront more climate adaptable and lessen toxic chemical risk exposures for the City's communities of color that are vulnerable to storm surges and flooding, yet beset with disproportionate environmental burdens. Stay tuned for updates and action alerts! For more on the Harbor Coalition, please visit their website: www.harborcoalition.org
In October, NYC-EJA Executive Director Eddie Bautista received the 2011 American Planning Association NY Metro Chapter's Lawrence M. Orton Award for Leadership in City and Regional Planning. Past award winners include Mayor Bloomberg and City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden.
Also in October, Eddie spoke at the national Partnership for Working Families conference in Potomac, Maryland on NYC-EJA's solid waste campaign. In November, both NYC-EJA and NYC-EJA member UPROSE presented at PolicyLink's National Equity Summit in Detroit.
On the eve of the upcoming Holidays, we ask your help to sustain our campaigns for environmental justice. Please support NYC-EJA by making a tax-deductible online donation at www.NYC-EJA.org.
Founded in 1991, NYC-EJA, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, is NYC's only federation of community-based organizations fighting for environmental justice in low income communities of color. Since January, NYC-EJA has successfully led reform campaigns on solid waste, power plant siting and brownfield remediation policies.
But we need your help to continue our successes. Your tax deductible online contribution can be made securely on the Donation page at our website www.NYC-EJA.org (don't forget the hyphen!). Your donation will support NYC-EJA's ongoing campaigns, including new challenges posed by climate change. You can also mail a check payable to: New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, 166A 22nd Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11232.
Become an EJ Friend - $50.00
Become an EJ Ally - $100.00
Become an EJ Champion - $200.00 (our 200x200 campaign!)
For more information on NYC-EJA's work (or better yet, to support that work with a tax-deductible donation), please visit our website at www.NYC-EJA.org. You'll be glad you did!
Hasta la proxima,