Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh plans to sign legislation that sets strict emissions standards for waste-to-energy incinerator Wheelabrator Baltimore. City Council unanimously passed the Clean Air Act last month, which aims to improve air quality, but could also bring more than $15 million per year in hauling and tipping fees to the city, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun.
The bill would set strict emissions limits on nitrogen oxide, mercury and sulfur dioxide and require continuous monitoring of air pollutants. Wheelabrator, which burns more than 700,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year and generates steam for downtown businesses, has said the plant would be unable to meet the new standards and would have to shut down.
Jim Connolly, Wheelabrator’s vice president of environmental, health and safety, has issued the following statement:
“By passing this legislation, the Baltimore City Council has acted against the environmental and economic interests of city residents by disregarding the consensus of the global scientific community. It is noteworthy the council rushed this bill to a vote without hearing testimony from a single independent subject matter expert. Independent scientists with expertise on this issue all agree that waste-to-energy is environmentally preferable to landfilling, which will become the only option for the city under this bill."
"If this legislation is enacted, city residents will be negatively impacted in multiple ways. Environmentally, this legislation will further diminish air quality in Baltimore and vastly increase greenhouse gas emissions. Even Wheelabrator’s biggest critics acknowledge that on-road vehicles are by far the leading cause of air pollution in the city. This bill will result in 37,000 new tractor-trailer trips on local roadways to transport the city’s waste to landfills with limited capacity, increasing greenhouse gases and reducing the amount of green energy and steam generated from this valuable fuel source. Economically, the city’s own analysis reveals this bill will cost taxpayers millions each year to support the ongoing costs associated with increasing landfill operations and to combat the escalation in illegal dumping anticipated to result from increased tipping fees at local landfills. Similarly, the city will lose valuable direct and indirect revenue from Wheelabrator Baltimore each year through taxes, host community fees, local business support, community engagement and investment and result in the loss of 65 full-time jobs.”
Wheelabrator Baltimore has also launched a website, GetTheFactsBmore.com, in response to the looming legislation. Clean Air Baltimore, a campaign to replace waste incineration with zero-waste jobs, has refuted the statement and says Wheelabrator is the largest air polluter in the city. Citing the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory database, the group says the incinerator is responsible for 36 percent of all industrial air pollution in Baltimore.
The mayor and city council are seeking alternative waste disposal solutions outside of the current waste-to-energy incinerator. Baltimore recycles about 15 percent of waste, and some groups hope to see increased organics and recycling efforts in the city.