FNP Editorial: Right vs Rush

The Frederick News Post published the following editorial last Thursday. In their reference to my November 18th presentation, I would have liked to see a bit more emphasis on the alternative I proposed, and the serious economic risks associated with a decades-long commitment to an over-sized “waste-to-energy” facility.

Nevertheless, with so much focus on the financial uncertainties and risks the last few months, it was good to see another call for a serious “risk assessment,” and a thoughtful reminder of the public health and environmental concerns, which are too often dismissed outright with a reference to current EPA standards.

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Right vs Rush

Frederick News Post
Editorial
December 11, 2008

The issue that’s brought “No Incinerator” signs to the front yards of numerous Frederick residences has also brought national attention to states like ours that are grappling with the pros and cons of building waste-to-energy plants.

Investigating the topic in its Dec. 6-7 issue, The Wall Street Journal looked at controversies surrounding combustion-based waste treatment options by observing that “opposition has cropped up against proposals in California, Maryland and elsewhere.”

It seems we are not alone. Not so, for Kai Hagen.

He’s the only Frederick County commissioner opposed to the idea of building a WTE incinerator in Frederick, recently developing a PowerPoint presentation to elucidate his stance and outline alternatives. A Nov. 19 News-Post story said an audience of “about 100 people” gathered for the show, coming as it did on the cusp of the review of the two final incinerator-build bids which, at that time, commissioners expected to have before the board by the end of the year. Estimated expenditure: $350 million.

Hagen articulated multiple criticisms of the “uncertain assumptions” being made by the pro-incinerator-leaning board. One involves population growth and per-household trash production predictions. The other hinges on questions surrounding future environmental regulations, meaning those likely to be enacted down the road.

Face it, regardless of how “attractive” the idea of waste-incineration-energy-recovery seems, it must be implemented with negative human health and environment impacts. Period. A seriously tall order in light of one Earthjustice spokesman’s observation: “There’s really a toxic soup that comes out of incinerators.”

As it turns out, Hagen’s “we don’t know” regarding future environmental requirements is accompanied by the “we can’t say” implication of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent actions — the very agency upon which we’d be relying for WTE emissions guidelines. Seems the EPA now is reviewing the 13-year-old standards it applies to WTE plants and, which environmentalists assert, are “way less protective” than those mandated by the Clean Air Act.

How can that be? We trust the EPA will answer that question, rectify and strengthen its WTE environmental protection standards, and let the rest of us in on it.

The upshot of Hagen’s PowerPoint presentation was the commissioners’ request that Hagen draft a study proposal that includes the WTE risk assessment he had requested. That should take a while, and the commissioners don’t seem to be champing at the bit to make an incinerator decision any time soon. Not only is that OK, it’s appropriate.

Understanding the risk-reward trade-offs in this situation is critical. Hagen got it right when he said: “It is more important to make the right decision than a rush decision.” His audience got it right, too.

They applauded.

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