Solid Waste Management Plan - Is the Bloomberg Administration Abandoning Fair Share & Borough Equity? 
April 2011 - Volume 2, Issue 3

In This Issue: Solid Waste Management Plan; Waste-to-Energy - Don't Believe the Hype!; and Upcoming Public Lecture Series (co-sponsored with Pratt Institute) 

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Fair Share PC 4.12.11

New York, NY (April 13, 2011) - Environmental justice groups, environmental organizations and community leaders joined New York City Councilmembers Brad Lander, Sara Gonzalez, Annabel Palma, Jumaane Williams, Diana Reyna and Steve Levin and others on the City Hall steps yesterday to demand that the Bloomberg Administration keep its Solid Waste Management Plan promises of "Fair Share".  The press conference kicked off prior to the City Council's first-ever "Fair Share" hearing by the Landmarks, Siting and Maritime Sub-Committee, where it examined testimony on the intent and shortcomings of the NYC Charter's "fair share" provision.  (The Administration decined to testify).  Among the attendee's at the press conference were: Morningside Heights-West Harlem Sanitation Coalition, UPROSE, The Point CDC, Youth Ministries for Peace & Justice, El Puente, NY Lawyers for the Public Interest, NYPIRG, NRDC and the Pratt Center for Community Development.

 

The Mayor's Preliminary Budget for the Sanitation Department would gut NYC's landmark 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan, undermining its goals of "Fair Share", equity, environmental responsibility and sustainability.  The Preliminary Budget functionally eliminates all marine transfer stations in Manhattan included in the Solid Waste Management Plan, plus another marine transfer station in Southwest Brooklyn, by delaying capital funding for another 5-8 years.  If approved, this proposal almost exclusively concentrates the burden of handling NYC's solid waste in a handful of low-income communities of color in Brooklyn and the Bronx - yet again.

 

The Mayor's proposed budget delays funding for several key SWMP facilities:

  East 91st St. Marine Transfer Station (from FY 11 to FY 16)

  West 59th St. Marine Transfer Station (from FY 14 to FY 19)

  Gansevoort Marine Transfer Station for recyclables (from FY 13 to FY 18)

  SW Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station (from FY 11 to FY 16)

 

The City is also considering "waste- to-energy" facilities - most of which rely on incinerator-based technologies and whose siting may be restricted to environmentally overburdened communities of color (see next article).

 

In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council approved the landmark NYC Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP), a sweeping overhaul of the City's waste export system.  At its heart, the re-vamped 2006 SWMP was based on principles of fair share and borough self-sufficiency; the SWMP was designed to radically shift the City's waste export infrastructure from a vastly polluting, truck-based export system ravaging a handful of low income communities of color, to a more environmentally friendly - and equitably sited - barge/rail-based system of waste export.  According to projections from the Department of Sanitation, the shift to a more equitably sited barge/rail-based system of waste export would reduce vehicle-miles traveled (VMT's) within the City by a stunning 5.5 million miles annually.

 

"It is hard to contemplate that Mayor Bloomberg would preside over the evisceration of one of his own legacy projects, developed in such close partnership with the City Council and the advocacy community.  There is perhaps no starker example of environmental injustice than having Manhattan - which generates 40% of the City's entire waste stream - completely dump its waste handling responsibilities on communities of color in Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Queens. The specter of "waste-to-energy" facilities - which, due to zoning laws and the NYC Waterfront Revitalization Program's Significant Maritime Industrial Area designations, are likely to be sited primarily in communities of color - is also unnerving.  We believe the Administration is getting bad advice. We urge the Mayor to listen to his better angels and stay the course of the SWMP," said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.Fair Share 4.12.11In lauding the passage of the 2006 SWMP, Mayor Bloomberg stated "perhaps the biggest success of the new Waste Management Plan is that it achieves equitability across all five boroughs" (Mayor's Press Release 257-06, July 23, 2006). The Mayor staunchly advocated for the Gansevoort facility, stating that if "the Gansevoort facility is not built, the Solid Waste Management Plan's requirement that every borough participate in handling its own waste in a substantial way will not be realized" (PR 189-07, June 13, 2007).  While touting progress around the W. 59th Street MTS, the Mayor's Office stated that "the City is taking an important step in towards creating commercial transfer capacity in every borough, which is a critical component of the Mayor's landmark Solid Waste Management Plan (PR 370-07, October 14, 2007).  By his own admissions, Mayor Bloomberg's Preliminary Budget would undermine the SWMP's biggest success by eliminating a number of its critical components.


20 years of fighting for cleaner and more just communities - one block at a time,

The NYC Environmental Justice Alliance

Waste-to-Energy? Don't Believe the Hype!

Fair Share hearing testimony 4.12.11

The Bloomberg Administration is considering "waste-to-energy" technologies to help "manage" some of New York City's waste stream.  According to a mayoral spokesman, the Administration is committed to (among other things): "....piloting new technologies to derive clean energy from waste".

 

Really? Clean energy from waste?  

 

Don't believe the hype, folks.  Many forms of "modern" waste-to-energy facilities (particularly gasification and thermal-based operations) are considered - and are regulated - as "incinerators" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, many state government regulators and the European Union.  Simply put, while mass-burn incinerators burn mixed waste in a single chamber to produce electricity, gasification, pyrolysis and plasma incinerators first use heat to convert waste into gas, and then burn it. In fact, this multi-step process is often referred to as "staged incinerators".  Some other items to consider (reprinted courtesy of NYPIRG):

  • Burning garbage releases harmful emissions into the air we breathe

Burning municipal solid waste (MSW) can release harmful emissions into the air, including particulate matter, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), heavy metals, mercury, acid gases, and dioxins and furans, which are extremely potent carcinogens that are generated during the combustion process.  Studies show that the new generation of staged incinerators emit comparable levels of toxic emissions as conventional mass burn incinerators.[i]  In fact, a pilot pyrolysis incinerator in southern California generated dioxins at twice the rate of two nearby garbage incinerators in Los Angeles.[ii]   Significant new health concerns have been raised about emissions of ultrafine particles, including lead and other toxic metals, which cannot be captured by air filters.  When inhaled, these particles can lodge deep in the lungs, enter the blood stream, and raise the risk of heart attacks, cancer, and neurological disorders.[iii]   In addition, many toxics end up in wastewater, ash, or slag that must then be treated and disposed of. 

 

(NYC-EJA note: "Gasified" trash doesn't mean all the waste fed into these staged incinerators magically disappears. Estimates of the "residue ash" or slag - i.e. - what remains after the solid waste is "gasified" - ranges from 25% to 40% of the original waste mass.  Moreover, that remaining 25-40% can potentially be considered "hazardous waste" - depending on what sort of waste went in - which means the City will still need to find and rely on landfills, but this time for hazardous waste.  These types of landfills are even more expensive, harder to find and less sustainable than other landfills.)

  •  The newer incinerators have not been proven commercially viable.

Staged incineration technologies have not yet been successfully demonstrated in the U.S. in an economically viable, environmentally protective, commercial-scaled operation.[iv]  Their record here and abroad has been plagued with operational problems including malfunctions, explosions and shutdowns.  Serious accidents resulting in the uncontrolled release of incinerator gases have taken place in Germany and elsewhere, and numerous gasification, pyrolysis, and plasma arc incinerators never made it past the design stage or have had to be permanently shut down. [v]

  •   Burning garbage is the most inefficient and expensive way to generate energy.

Garbage is a dirty and inefficient fuel.  According to the federal government, garbage incinerators have the highest capital and operating costs of any type of power plant.[vi]   In many communities saddled with these costly white elephants, local citizens and taxpayers have been faced with steep rate hikes and tax increases.  For instance, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has one of the lowest credit ratings in the country and is on the verge of bankruptcy after borrowing $125 million to expand and upgrade its garbage incinerator in 2003.[vii]   The more complex staged incineration processes are likely to be "significantly more expensive" than conventional incinerators.[viii]   In addition, the newer technologies appear to be even less efficient than mass-burn incinerators when it comes to generating electricity.[ix]  Most municipalities have rejected WTE based on costs profiles alone.

  •  Recycling saves more energy than burning garbage generates

Burning garbage produces neither clean nor renewable energy.  Recycling waste saves 3-5 times the energy that burning waste generates.  In addition, garbage incinerators release more greenhouse gas emissions than coal-fired plants.  Sustainable policies put waste prevention and recycling at the top of the waste management hierarchy.  But incinerators need to be "fed" with a steady stream of waste and therefore compete with recycling programs for both funding and materials.  Nearly 90% of the waste stream can be recycled or composted.[x]  While New York State is only achieving a 20% recycling rate, San Francisco - which has committed to a zero waste goal by 2020 - is already diverting 72% of its waste stream.  This is the sustainability goal that New York City should be striving for. 

 

(NYC-EJA note: Most of these staged incinerators/gasification facilities are relatively small-scale operations.  Given NYC's staggering daily tonnage of over 40,000 tons per day, waste-to--energy is not even remotely a serious response to the City's solid waste troubles.  Its comparing apples to apple-jacks.)

  • Last, but not least - where can these WTE facilities be sited?
Due to NYC zoning laws, and the Waterfront Revitalization Program's Significant Maritime Industrial Area zone designations, you can bet these facilities will be coming to a waterfront community of color near you...

 

As all New Yorkers intuitively know, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is".  There's no silver bullet  to New York City's trash problem - we cannot indefinitely bury it nor burn it nor magic-WTE-wand it away.  We need a 21st Century waste reduction and recycling commitment;  imagine how energy-saving - and job-creating - such a commitment could be for our town.

 

Hasta la proxima,

Eddie Bautista,

Executive Director


 [i] European Commission, Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Reference Document on the Best Available Techniques for Waste Incineration, August 2006; Tellus Institute, et al., "Assessment of Materials Management Options for the Massachusetts Solid Waste Master Plan Review,"  Final report tothe Massachusetts Department

of Environmental Protection, Dec. 2008.

[ii] Jay Chen. IES Romoland Emission Tests, status update.  South Coast Air Quality Management District, Emerging

Technologies Forum, April 17, 2006.

[iii] C. Vyvyan Howard, "Particulate Emissions and Health Proposed Ringaskiddy Waste-to-Energy Facility," June 2009.

[iv] N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation, "Beyond Waste: A Sustainable Materials Management Strategy for New York State," Dec. 27, 2010., pp.225-7

[v] See Ciplet, supra, note 4, pp. 12, 14.

[vi] U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Energy Information System, "Updated Capital Cost Estimates for Electricity Generation Plants," November 2010.

[vii] "An Incinerator Becomes Harrisburg's Money Pit," The New York Times, May 20th, 2010.

[viii] Fichtner Consulting Engineers Limited, "The Viability of Advanced Thermal Treatment in the UK," 2004.

[ix] See Ciplet, supra, note 4, pp. 19-20.

[x] See "Beyond Waste," supra note 8.

 

PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES 

 Friends: 

NYC Environmental Justice communities and storm surge zones 

 Pratt Institute's Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance are co-hosts of the 2011 Sustainable Waterfront Public Lecture series.  The Public Lecture series, held at Pratt Manhattan Campus (144 West 14th Street), Room 213, is free and open to the public .  Space is limited - to RSVP for one of the upcoming lectures, please email [email protected]


New York City, with over 520 miles of coastline, presents incredible opportunities for maritime and recreational activities, natural areas and visionary waterfront development. However, NYC is also among the U.S. cities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change - from sea level rise to hurricanes. (See NYC-EJA's map above showing environmental justice communities inequitably designated as "Significant Maritime Industrial Areas", or SMIA's, under NYC's Waterfront Revitalization Program.  SMIA designations not only cluster polluting infrastructure in low income waterfront communities of color, but does so in areas vulnerable to storm surges. To learn more, please visit our website at www.NYC-EJA.org

Change along NYC's waterfront is inevitable. In response, NYC and NYS agencies have released new plans, programs and policies to address these future realities. We invite the authors and framers of these proposals to discuss how their overall visions and proposals advance environmental, equity and economic development goals.

Friday, April 29 - NYS Climate Action Plan, with Alan Belensz, NYS Attorney General Schneiderman's Office (& former Director of the Office of Climate Change with NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)

Each Lecture begins with a 5:30 pm reception, followed by the actual lecture at 6 pm.  Q&A begins at 7 pm, with program concluding at 7:30 pm.  Hope to see you at the Lecture series.  Space is limited - don't forget to RSVP!

 

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,

Eddie Bautista,

Executive Director