Monday, June 24, 2024

Forget It Jake, It's Baltimore

WIN Waste incinerator, Baltimore
Bay Journal, Baltimore incinerator draws fire for air pollution "Groups accuse city of civil rights violation for burning trash"

On May 28, the South Baltimore Community Land Trust filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that residents of predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods nearby are disproportionately harmed by air emissions from the WIN Waste incinerator.

“Way too many of my family members and [high school] classmates … suffer from asthma and other respiratory problems made worse by air pollution,” said the land trust’s Carlos Sanchez-Gonzalez during a press release announcing the action.

The land trust, which grew out of a successful effort more than a decade ago to block the construction of another refuse-burning incinerator in South Baltimore, alleges that the city is violating the federal Civil Rights Act by continuing to rely on incineration to dispose of municipal garbage. Represented by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Environmental Integrity Project, the group is asking the EPA to investigate the health effects of the WIN Waste incinerator and require the city to divert municipal waste from it while increasing composting and recycling.

EPA spokesperson Dominique Joseph said the agency could not comment on a pending complaint. Under federal regulations, the EPA has 20 calendar days to decide if it will investigate.

The complaint focuses on the city’s 10-year solid waste management plan, which was adopted by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in November and subsequently approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment. The group contends that in developing the plan, the city’s Department of Public Works failed to map out a way to reduce reliance on the incinerator.

With its towering smokestack, the incinerator is a highly visible fixture on the southern edge of downtown Baltimore. Though just one of many industrial and waste disposal facilities in that part of the city, including a controversial coal loading pier, the incinerator is the largest stationary source of industrial air pollution in Baltimore.

Advocates contend that its emissions of mercury, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter contribute to respiratory issues, heart conditions and other serious health problems for residents of nearby neighborhoods, including Cherry Hill, Brooklyn, Curtis Bay and Westport.
The city has long contracted to send a large portion of its municipal refuse to the incinerator, which at one time operated as the Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. Advocates complain the city and state have effectively subsidized the waste-to-energy facility by making it eligible for lucrative renewable energy credits.

In 2019, under pressure from community and environmental advocates, the city imposed substantially tighter air pollution limits on the incinerator, only to have them struck down by a federal court. The incinerator’s owner subsequently agreed to upgrade pollution controls, but the complaint notes that the facility’s emission limits are far looser than what the EPA has recently proposed to require of municipal waste incinerators nationwide.

In 2020, the city also renewed a long-term contract pledging to send waste to the incinerator through 2031.
Mary Urban, a spokesperson for WIN Waste Baltimore, said that the company has spent $45 million to upgrade its pollution controls, making it “among the lowest-emitting waste-to-energy facilities in the world.” She cited a company-commissioned study finding that the incinerator has negligible impact on air quality and argued that it is reducing climate-warming emissions by burning rather than landfilling waste. She also noted that the city has estimated it could cost taxpayers nearly $100 million to stop incinerating trash and instead truck it to the landfill on Quarantine Road, also in South Baltimore.

My guess is that this will turn out to be environmentalist blackmail. Once WIN agrees to adequate ongoing payments to the Land Trust, the Bay Foundation, and maybe even the neighborhood, the matter will mysteriously settled.

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