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Baltimore Continues to Incinerate Trash Despite Objections from New Mayor and City Council

Shashawnda Campbell began her three-minute statement in front of the Maryland General Assembly by swaying and swaying in her chair, seemingly nervous. When he looked at his camera, he spoke in a clip faster than other witnesses, and he was idle for 25 seconds.

“This incinerator is not a system we should pamper and subsidize at all. It doesn’t deserve it.”

In Maryland, energy generated through waste incineration is classified as a “Tier-1” renewable resource, which means it earns a clean energy loan. Campbell, 24, was supporting HB0332, a bill that would completely eliminate burning from the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

Campbell has been battling garbage-burning furnaces in Baltimore since high school. His testimony on February 4 came just a few months after the city’s Forecasts Board extended the contract for the Wheelabrator incinerator for another 10 years.

Last year, the prospects seemed much more favorable to environmental activists like Campbell, with a City Council and a newly arrived mayor opposing an extension of the contract in favor of stricter air pollution standards.

But the day after the 2020 Presidential Election, the Baltimore Predictions Board voted 3 to 2 to extend Wheelabrator Baltimore’s contract for another 10 years, twice as long as the company was backstage. Campbell is now looking for ways to “starve the monster” garbage through stronger recycling and composting.

Former mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who joined the city’s attorney attorney and deputy chief of public works in the vote of the $ 106 million deal, was criticized for lacking transparency and being inappropriate. Wheelabrator’s renegotiations with the city took place behind closed doors, and the forecasting committee responsible for the purchase and award of the contracts added the vote to its agenda just two days ago.

This came as a shock to local politicians and activists, who were promised a public hearing before the city council briefing and voting. Also, the authorities made no effort to request competing bids for the city’s solid waste disposal system.

“This was offensive on a scale that is hard to exaggerate,” said Greg Sawtell of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, an organization that advocates for zero waste.

After the contract was extended, the Washington-based National Waste and Recycling Association, the trade group for waste and recycling companies in all 50 states, called the vote “a win for both the community and the city.”

“Wheelabrator is providing the city with $ 7 million for homeowner wages and important work,” the association said. “Also, with investments in emission control technology, Wheelabrator will have some of the lowest emissions compared to any waste-to-power plant in the country.”

The existence of renegotiations between Wheelabrator and Baltimore was made public with a lawsuit filed last July over a previous case.

In 2019, the City Council unanimously approved the Baltimore Clean Air Act, which will bring stricter emissions standards to the facility. Wheelabrator sued the city, arguing that it was impossible to meet the standards, and a federal judge dropped the law to circumvent state and federal regulations. Fearing a loss, Baltimore abandoned his appeal plans and met with Wheelabrator again as part of his deal.

To continue working, Wheelabrator now needs to spend $ 40 million to reduce emissions.

“Open the Beast”

Although motor vehicle exhaust is likely a larger source of pollution than Wheelabrator in southern Baltimore, incinerator chimneys still account for 36 percent of the entire city’s industrial air pollution, according to the climate change advocacy organization Chesapeake Climate Action Fund Action Network. Emissions include mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

According to Chris Skaggs, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, one of the upgrades required for the Wheelabrator involves the installation of a fabric filter with sulfur dioxide emissions of no more than 29 parts per million per day. 18 parts per million. Another upgrade involves lowering the nitrogen oxide level – currently no more than 145 parts per million on the 30-day rolling average – to 105 parts per million.

A recent study estimates that $ 55 million is spent annually to treat the adverse health effects caused by Wheelabrator. Some of these ailments include high rates of asthma and chronic respiratory diseases.

Wheelabrator sits just off the I-95 highway in Southern Baltimore, and residents closest to it are mostly Black, low-income, and less educated than in other parts of the city.

Campbell, who is also a member of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, said Wheelabrator’s new strategy is to “starve the monster”, as it has been given a contract extension.

“I think we need to hurt them,” Campbell said of Wheelabrator’s trash, “now it takes the waste they get from their biggest contract, the city and the county.”

Ninety percent of the waste incinerated at Wheelabrator comes from the city and Baltimore county.

Turning off the Wheelabrator wasn’t solid, Skaggs said, because there will always be trash to tackle. We prefer to reduce the overall amount of waste by making people “change their habits where they can, so we can’t do it all over again.”

The Road to Zero Waste

Mayor Scott, who was the chairman of the City Council in last year’s board vote, was not in favor of extending Wheelabrator’s contract until 2031. Now, its management is trying to direct Baltimore to zero waste.

An important part of its strategy includes removing 90 percent of waste from landfills by 2040; Much of this is removing food from the waste stream. His plan also includes increasing composting and recycling by providing litter boxes for city dwellers who have had to buy their own until now. But none of this will be easy.

“Burning garbage is relatively cheap [at Wheelabrator]It poses a real challenge when trying to create alternatives, ”Sawtell said. “And the sending market signal: Baltimore remains fully willing to burn the limited natural resources of the region in the next 10 years.”

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