On March 17 the permit for the 4,000 ton per day garbage incinerator planned for the Curtis Bay-Brooklyn Park-Hawkins Point area of south Baltimore, MD, was declared invalid by the Maryland Department of Energy and Environment, finally ending years of protest by local residents and their allies from all parts of the city and region (see previous story from ILSR here).
The company proposing the plant, Energy Answers International, had failed to break ground on the facility within the time frame established in the permit.
Energy Answers also has obstacles in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, where another plant similar to the one proposed in Baltimore is also being proposed.
First and foremost the plant needs garbage to burn. To date the cities surrounding Arecibo in the San Juan metropolitan area have refused to agree to send their trash to the plant. Mayors in Puerto Rico are very powerful and they have refused to consider a $40 per ton tip fee in addition to the 80 mile round trip from the densely populated San Juan metro area. Puerto Rico’s Solid Waste Authority has approved the plant through a contract that the municipalities threaten to challenge in court since this agency does not control the flow of garbage in the island’s cities. “The company knows this project is not viable, yet they are trying to force this incinerator through the back door putting political pressure on agencies. We all know this is a bad project that will have a negative effect on human health and the environment”, says Ingrid Vila, President of CAMBIO and a coordinator for the effort to stop the plant.
The Puerto Rico Sierra Club and environmental organization Mision Industrial support this effort as well.
Yet another problem facing the plant is a source for water. To date no source has been successfully identified. Government authorities have rejected one source, extracting water from the Caño Tiburones Wetland Natural Reserve.
The facility also has to find financing amidst the worst economic crisis the island has faced in decades. The US government is considering a financial package to help the Commonwealth address its multi billion-dollar debt. Additional debt for the plant will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Paid off over 20 years the capital costs would reach over $1 billion. Energy Answers has asked the Rural Financial Services of the USDA to provide loan guarantees for the project. “From the information we have gathered this agency has never guaranteed a garbage to energy plant like this one,” points out Vila. The agency specializes in water infrastructure improvements in Puerto Rico.
In many US cities and counties, after citizens and small businesses defeat proposals for garbage incinerators, policy pivots on recycling as in Los Angeles, Austin, Alachua County, FL, Seattle and King County, WA, Portland, OR and Worcester, MA. Anti incinerator organizers in both Baltimore and Arecibo are not only working to stop bad plants but also working for recycling, economic development and zero waste as their alternative.
The anti-incineration movement in Puerto Rico is pushing for the adoption of a Zero Waste strategy to promote reduction of waste generation and increase recycling on the Island. In that effort they supported the plastic bag ban adopted by law in 2015; they are promoting the adoption of a bottle-bill and are pushing for the development of needed regulation for compositing and electronic waste.
Puerto Rico currently recycles only 14% of its waste stream that provides for ample room for job creation and industry development in this area.
Neil Seldman and ILSR has worked with locally based grass roots environmental justice and professional organizations in Puerto Rico as well as the Commonwealth’s Solid Waste Authority and US EPA Region 2 promoting recycling and economic development and zero waste.