In the News: Neil Seldman
April 22, 2020
Media Outlet: Nonprofit Quarterly
Neil Seldman, Director of ILSR’s Waste to Wealth initiative, wrote about the Zero Waste Plan recently released by a community coalition in Baltimore and the long battle against waste incineration in the city. Excerpts below:
It bears emphasis that Baltimore is not a wealthy city. Its poverty rate is high, and its household income is below average. It is also a majority Black city—62.5 percent, according to US census data. Too often, it is assumed that environmental leadership is a luxury of wealthy cities—the Seattles and San Franciscos of the world. (We’ll ignore for the moment that the wealth of such technology-based cities is often based on heavy environmental destruction abroad.) But Baltimore is showing that this need not be the case.
The objectives of Baltimore’s Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste include clean air, clean communities, reclaimed communities, more local jobs, reduced waste, more community power, and city commitment. In the article, Neil explains what the plan entails, and the potential it has to change the city:
Our economic forecast suggests that implementing suggest an agenda would create at least 1,780 jobs (over 780 in processing and more than 1,000 in manufacturing). The public health benefits of this shift—and the economic benefits—could also be substantial. At present, Baltimore has one of the nation’s highest rates of respiratory illness. We estimate that Baltimore residents spend $55 million a year on health costs related to burning trash alone.
Dedicated organizers — including local youth — have led this effort to improve the quality of life in their community.
This industrial waterfront, a short hop from downtown Baltimore, is among the most polluted zip codes in the country. During a recent presentation, Carlos Sanchez, a 15-year-old community organizer, asked everyone to hold their breath for 15 seconds. Each second, he said, stands for a year in life-expectancy gap between the average Baltimorean and neighborhood residents, who breathe in emissions daily from coal piles blowing dust and hazardous waste incinerators spreading chemical pollution.
Baltimore’s Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste was publicly released on February 22, 2020, to a large, supportive audience that included six city council members. Since then, however, it’s faced barriers to being implemented. Neil writes:
At the same time, the city has faced legal resistance. In March 2020, US District Court of Maryland Judge George Russell invalidated a section of the city’s 2019 clean air act, which had mandated that a city ban on waste incinerators go into effect in September 2020. On April 6th, however, Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to appeal that decision based on federal precedents in Pennsylvania that allow for stricter local standards. At the same meeting, it also unanimously voted to approve the Zero Waste Plan.
Initially Mayor Young was hesitant to move forward with the city’s appeal. On April 22, following a community press conference and demonstration at the incinerator site, the city announced that it would file an appeal to the federal court ruling.
Independent of court actions and appeals, with the city shut down due to the coronavirus, action will surely be delayed. Organizers had envisioned swift implementation; we will have to see. The city primary election campaigns are in full swing, with the Democratic Party voting for a new mayor and city council. Elections, which had been scheduled for April 28th, have been pushed back to June 2nd.
The coalition is optimistic. Final implementation of the plan may be delayed by court battles and the pandemic, but the Baltimore community remains mobilized to stop incineration and start the road to Zero Waste.
Find an update on anti-incineration efforts in Baltimore here.
Photo via United Workers.