We Demand Fair Development / United Workers / March to Stop the Incinerator 2013 Flickr CC

Webinar: Waste Incineration: A Dirty Secret in How States Define Renewable Energy

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance invited local officials, communities fighting waste incinerators, and both clean energy and waste management advocates, to join a webinar exploring our latest report on the economic and environmental impacts of power-generating waste incinerators.

The webinar –– which was hosted on Wednesday, January 9th at 1:00PM CST –– covered incineration as an issue connecting waste management and energy sectors, drawing from ILSR’s Energy Democracy, Waste to Wealth, and Composting for Community Initiatives. The session dug into the implications of classifying this process as “renewable” and outlined ways to combat this aging, dirty industry and alternative strategies to support more equitable, economic, and sustainable local solutions in both the waste and energy sectors.

Marie Donahue, research associate with Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Energy Democracy Initiative, presented the results of the team’s December report, Waste Incineration: A Dirty Secret in How States Define Renewable Energy.

In addition, Donahue was joined by allies Aiko Fukuchi from GAIA, a worldwide alliance whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration, and Mike Ewall, Founder and Executive Director of the Energy Justice Network, a national support network for grassroots community groups fighting dirty energy and waste industry facilities. These two speakers provided additional perspective and on-the-ground strategies communities can use to fight dirty incinerators.

Webinar Presenters

Aiko Fukuchi, GAIA
Marie Donahue, ILSR
Marie Donahue, ILSR
Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network
Mike Ewall, EJN


Webinar Recording

You can view the webinar recording embedded below (or download the presenters’ slidedecks):


Webinar Discussion

While the presentations took most of the hour, a couple questions were raised and discussed toward the end of the webinar. We have included those questions and answers, below.

Q: What’s the story with New York State in the map (below) of incinerators and state renewable energy goals? It excludes municipal solid waste incineration as renewable, but has the most incinerators (count of 10)?


A (Mike Ewall, jump to 50:15 of webinar for response): This idea [of getting incineration in higher tiers of existing renewable energy portfolio standards or RPS, making the plant eligible to receive additional financial support through renewable energy credits] has been attempted in many other states. So, it’s important to be a watchdog at state legislatures where similar laws have passed, such as in Maryland [which passed in 2011], to ensure they are not trying to enhance incineration to count as renewable. Recently, New York, just in the past few weeks, authorized a proposed incinerator. New York has 10 trash incinerators in their state and has done a great job keeping them out of the state renewable portfolio standard to-date, an anomaly in that they have that many incinerators but do not classify them as renewable… yet. The state environmental agency had done a whole report showing how polluting trash incineration is [which supported the numerous times the state has fought back the incineration industry to classify these plants as renewable energy]. The recent authorization — which would allow the new biomass incinerator be counted as a Tier 1 renewable energy source — is a horrible foot in the door that could mean the rest of the state’s 10 incinerators could eventually be counted.

A (Marie Donahue, excerpt from Waste Incineration report): There are two notable exceptions to the strong association between statewide RPS and locations of municipal solid waste incinerators are Florida and New York. Florida, which has not yet passed any statewide RPS or goal, provides other types of incentives to incineration technologies and has 11 waste incinerators in operation today, the most of any state. New York, on the other hand, has a state RPS that excludes municipal solid waste incineration, yet it has ten currently operating incinerators. Since 2011, industry lobbyists have tried unsuccessfully to convince lawmakers in Albany to have New York follow Maryland’s lead and elevate waste incineration in the state’s renewable energy policy. Recent proposals for new incinerators in New York have also faced strong opposition, including from high-profile officials like Governor Cuomo (D-NY) who cited environmental concerns for a recently proposed plant in Romulus, earlier this year.


Q: Now that it is a new year, what will each of you be paying close attention to when it comes to incineration in 2019? What issues, projects, campaigns, or policies, should we be tracking related to incineration in the year ahead?

A (Marie Donahue): As we discussed in our recent, forward-looking New Year’s episode of the Local Energy Rules podcast, “A ‘Year of 100’ for Local, Renewable Energy in 2018,” a growing number of states, utilities, and cities are poised to make and work toward 100 percent renewable energy commitments in 2019. We have been highlighting leaders helping to implement these commitments in an ongoing Voices of 100 podcast series, and I’ll be curious to see what connections exist or what opportunities these sorts of policy goals — across scales — provide to make sure communities are prioritizing local, clean, and equitable energy sources and how to strengthen legal definitions of renewable energy to ensure waste incineration is explicitly removed from these goals. So, that’s one thing I’ll be following related to this topic moving forward.

A (Aiko Fukuchi): I think some of the upcoming things we’ll be working on are mostly we’re expanding our work with Zero Waste communities through #Breakfreefromplastics campaign, and also continuing our Failing Incinerators Project, working with partners, strengthening those relationships and supporting our partners there. Additionally, I’d say, we’re building a new partnership with partners and allies at the Climate Justice Alliance through the intersection and connection between Just Transition and Zero Waste issues.

A (Mike Ewall): Yeah, I think I gave a lot of things [including upcoming hearings for Baltimore’s recent ordinance and a new report we’re working on] earlier. But we’re working in several additional states. Along the Hudson River in N.Y., for example, we’re working to fight different types of incinerators including cement kiln incinerators. There is a lot of work across the country. We’re making sure there are opposition groups whenever proposals come up. We’re working wherever there is something that ought not to be burned. If anyone is in a community with an incinerator or you’re not sure, please be in touch, so we can work together.

Learn more about the topic of waste incineration and alternative approaches to managing waste and generating local, clean, and renewable energy, in ILSR’s in-depth report, Waste Incineration: A Dirty Secret in How States Define Renewable Energy. A press release for the December 2018 report is available here.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell or Marie Donahue on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly update. Also check out over 50 episodes of the Local Energy Rules podcast!

Photo Credit: United Workers (March to Stop the Incinerator) via Flickr CC 2.0

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Marie Donahue was a Research Associate with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Energy Democracy and Independent Business Initiatives in 2018-2019. She analyzed and wrote about the implications of corporate concentration and monopoly in these sectors.