New Report Criticizes Maryland’s Waste-to-Energy Efforts

The Environmental Integrity Project has released a report that is critical of Maryland’s recent efforts to include waste-to-energy (WTE) plants as part of its renewable energy strategy.  WTE plants burn trash to produce electricity and steam heat.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, legislation passed during the 2011 Session that moved WTE plants to a Tier 2 source to a Tier 1 source (a more favorable position) within the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

The report criticizes WTE plants as being significant pollution sources that are extremely expensive to build and operate.  The report also argues that recycling is more sustainable and generates more jobs.  Finally, the report concludes that Maryland should not treat WTE as a renewable energy source and should instead focus wind, solar, and geothermal power.

WTE incinerators in Maryland typically emit more pollutants per hour of energy produced than Maryland’s largest coal-fired power plants. Emissions include pollutants like mercury and lead that disproportionately harm children, are harmful even in small doses and bioaccumulate over time.  …

From a waste management perspective, recycling is better for the environment and amount of energy used than incineration. Furthermore, a report by the Institute for Local Self Reliance estimates that per ton of waste managed, recycling generates 10 times more jobs than incineration does.  …

Given these findings, Maryland should remove WTE incinerators from its RPS, invest further in recycling and source reduction programs, reconfigure its Clean Energy Production Tax Credit Program to better support and promote clean and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal energy, and increase its statewide pollution monitoring network to better understand new sources of pollution as well as trends in air quality.

An October 14 Carroll County Times article also provides a summary of the report’s findings as well as reactions from other environmental and WTE advocates.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a nonprofit dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., said incinerators are being marketed in Maryland as an environmentally friendly way to make electricity while getting rid of solid waste at the same time, which he thinks is misleading.

“I recognize that many of the motivations among some of the actors who are pro-waste incineration are well-intended, but the reality is this is setting us back, this is compounding our aggregate pollution problems,” Tidwell said. “What we need to do is reduce the volume of waste.”  …

Ted Michaels, president of the Energy Recovery Council, a national trade organization representing the waste-to-energy industry and communities that own waste-to-energy facilities, said he thought it was misleading for the Environmental Integrity Project to only compare two of the state’s incinerators with four of the area’s modernized power plants. Michaels said it would have been a more accurate comparison to use an average emission level for power plants instead of what he classified as four of the best in the state.

Further, the report only focused on a handful of pollutants, he said, downplaying the total environmental impact of mining and transporting coal, in addition to burning it.

 An October 13 Washington Examiner article gives further details and reactions:

The study results are a serious blow to Maryland’s renewable-energy efforts. The state is on track to more than double its trash-incinerating capacity over the next decade by expanding a plant in Harford County and breaking ground on two new plants in Baltimore and Frederick County.  …

A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley declined to comment on the study because it’s still being reviewed.

“Gov. O’Malley is very committed to clean energy,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. “Our achievements in the arena are well documented and our record speaks for itself.”

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Robin Davidov

    The EIP study results are inaccurate and misleading. “WTE is fully compatible with recycling and integral to well-managed solid waste systems.”(source: Palm Beach County Response to the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club) Health risk studies carried out near the Montgomery County Facility show that there is no elevated risk to residents, livestock or the environment after 16 years of operation. WTE belongs with landfill gas and chicken litter as Tier I renewable resources. The EIP study did not take into account environmental damage from coal mining and transport.

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