Strong Feelings on Incineration in DC
by Chris Weiss, Executive Director, DC Environmental Network
“Now to hear that the city wants to go forward with another one of these proposals is really a shock to me and I think a major step backwards in the realm of environmental justice. And so I just want it to be said that if you think the government is going to build an incinerator there [Anacostia River basin] you have another think coming. We will mobilize and we will litigate and we will sue your department and we will sue DDOE and we will occupy the site, or whatever has to be done, to make sure that [project] will not go forward.”
- Jim Dougherty, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club, Washington, DC Chapter
On January 3rd, over 60 people, representing over 30 organizations and government agencies and offices, participated in the DC Environmental Network’s first opportunity of the year to network, advocate and share our thoughts and feelings about the possibility of a new waste-to-energy facility in the District.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D; DC Advocates for the Arts; DC Climate Action; DC Council Transportation & Environment Committee; DC Department of Public Works; DC Environmental Network; DC Health Collaborative; DC Statehood Green Party; DC SUN; District Department of the Environment; Downtown DC BID; Energy Justice Network; Earthjustice; Envision Frederick County; Friends of McMillan Park; Friends of the Earth; Global Bees; Global Green USA; Institute for Local Self Reliance; Koshland Science Museum; Loop Strategies; NAACP; National Center for Healthy Housing; National Institute for Peer Support; National Recycling Coalition; No Incinerator Alliance; Offices of Councilmember Mary Cheh; Offices of Councilmember Yvette Alexander; Pareto Energy; Potomac Riverkeeper; Sierra Club, Washington, DC Chapter; Three Birds.
As a component of the District’s Sustainable DC initiative, Mayor Gray recently budgeted $300,000 to implement a study to look at different waste-to-energy technologies and see if the District might want to implement one of these waste management (energy creation) strategies. Mayor Gray faces a looming deadline as contracts to deal with the District’s waste will expire in the next few years and the District will have to have a new plan or a new contract.
What complicates what could be a sincere effort on behalf of sustainability is recent movement, possibly on numerous fronts, to look at incineration as a key waste-to-energy option for the District. One proposal in circulation in Prince George’s County, for example, is a possible partnership with the District to build and run an incineration plant that could be sited in DC. This and other possibilities have rattled many environmentalists who, in addition to being concerned that incineration should not be part of the District’s mix of recycling programs, are worried that an environmental justice issue may rear its head.
It was in this environment that the DC Environmental Network decided to use our first monthly networking opportunity of 2013 to bring together representatives of government and the environmental community to talk about Mayor Gray’s waste-to-energy initiative. Our goal was to have input on how Mayor Gray might design his study on waste-to-energy and let the broader environmental community have an opportunity to express concerns about all the possible directions the Mayor might take.
We had a very distinguished panel who presented their thoughts on the study including:
- Hallie Clemm, Deputy Administrator, Solid Waste Management Division, DC Department of Public Works – Hallie talked about how the study came to be and its connection to Mayor Gray’s Sustainable DC initiative and current recycling progress and programs. (watch YouTube video)
- Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self Reliance – Neil shared his thoughts on the good work of DPW and how Mayor Gray is also investing an additional $600,000 for composting programs. He also shared, “ILSR is doubtful that a large scale incinerator could be sited in the District due to space limitations, environmental justice concerns and capital and operating costs which will be much higher than land-filling or current use of the Lorton incinerator.” (watch YouTube video)
- Larry Martin, Sierra Club, Washington DC Chapter – Larry suggested that any incineration study is entirely inappropriate prior to demonstrated success with reduction and recycling of the waste in DC. (watch YouTube video)
- Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network – Mike shared many of the environmental problems caused by incineration and focused on the potential environmental justice consequences. (watch YouTube video)
We also had a very robust conversation with the over 60 participants that you can listen to on YouTube. (watch YouTube video)
What was immediately apparent in our conversation, almost from the start, was the concern that this study would lead to or result in the building of an incineration plant in a District neighborhood. Hallie Clemm of the Department of Public Works assured participants that no decisions have been made and that this was far too early in the process to worry about a specific technology or location.
Here are some selected quotes from our discussion and from follow-up email:
On the study…
“I would love to see environmental groups talk about, if were gonna have to have a space for waste-to-energy in the U.S., what it should look like, what should be the upfront screening technology so were getting as many of the materials out upfront, what should the scrubbers look like, what are the policies in place to keep the hazardous materials out so that the best results from that can be gleaned. Because we don’t have the policies that the EU [European Union] or others do to keep toxics out of the system.” - Annie White, Sustainability Strategist
“I found a great study done in California in 2011 with a LCA [life cycle analysis] comparison of different types of waste energy technologies including hydrolysis, anaerobic digestion, incineration, pyrolysis, gasification. Incineration does not look good on this LCA!” - Kara Davis, Loop Strategies (See California Life Cycle Analysis Comparison Here!)
“My final point on all that is that you got DPW staff and you got DDOE staff here and you got a lot of good staff right now that could be put on to this and I don’t know that you need to hire a big time consultant firm to do some of this work for you…” – Jack Werner
“ILSR is doubtful that a large scale incinerator could be sited in the District due to space limitations, environmental justice concerns and capital and operating costs which will be much higher than landfilling or current use of Lorton incinerator.” – Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self Reliance
“We propose that any incineration study is entirely inappropriate prior to demonstrated success with reduction and recycling of the waste. When we approach 70% diversion of discards from the garbage, then we can have a discussion about incineration – but not before then; and now is definitely not the time…We don’t need studies, we need some planning and then implementation of pilots to move DC toward 0-waste.” – Larry Martin, Sierra Club, Washington, DC Chapter
“Now to hear that the City wants to go forward with another one of these proposals is really a shock to me and I think a major step backwards in the realm of environmental justice. And so I just want it to be said that if you think the government is going to build an incinerator there [Anacostia River basin] you have another think coming. We will mobilize and we will litigate and we will sue your department and we will sue DDOE and we will occupy the site, or whatever has to be done, to make sure that [project] will not go forward.” - Jim Dougherty, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club, Washington, DC Chapter
“If you move to an incinerator when you’ve got 75% of your waste not being composted and recycled you’re going to create an overly sized, high capacity thing that is going to become a direct impediment to all the other things that you might do to move from 25% to 75%.” - Kai Hagen, Envision Frederick County
On the Sustainable DC process…
“Once again these plans have been used to give us the impression that the government is listening, that it’s going to take some of these issues, but what we’re getting back is simply were going to keep doing the same thing we intended to do and were going to call it sustainability. I really think the environmental community, particularly the green ribbon commission people, need to go back to the Mayor and try to find out what is going on because these things are not going to make the city more sustainable.” – Robert Robinson, DC Renewable Energy Activist
The DC Environmental Network recognizes that incineration is an issue of great concern to the broader environmental community and will continue to monitor and possibly advocate on in the future.