Advocates Urge PSC to Reject Covanta’s Petition Seeking Clean Energy Funding for Dirty Garbage Incinerators

New Report Shows Waste Industry is Banking on State and Federal Clean Energy Subsidies

Health, environmental, consumer and clean energy advocates called on the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reject a petition by the Covanta Energy Corporation to make garbage incineration eligible for the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).   The 5-member Commission will be meeting on Thursday in Albany to rule on Covanta’s petition.

 New York’s Renewable Portfolio Standard was established in 2004 to promote clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power to replace dirty fossil fuels.  Consumers pay for the RPS through a small surcharge on their monthly utility bills.

 More than 2,500 letters opposing Covanta’s petition were sent in to the PSC this summer from a wide range of nonprofit groups, businesses, elected officials, and individuals (see attached list).   Due to its adverse environmental impacts and strong public opposition, the PSC has rejected including garbage incineration in the RPS twice before, in 2004 and 2010.

According to a report released today by GAIA, Burning Public Money for Dirty Energy; Misdirected Subsidies for “Waste-to-Energy” Incinerators, Covanta’s efforts in New York mirror a larger strategy the incinerator industry is pursuing across the nation seeking access to dedicated funds for clean energy.  There are nearly a dozen federal policies that allow trash-burning to compete with clean energy technologies for the same funds.  The report found that “The State Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a powerful driver for the expansion of the incinerator industry, in addition to opening the door for a range of state and federal subsidies.”

 While Covanta is trying to recast garbage burning as “clean,” municipal solid waste incinerators are major polluters, generating both harmful air emissions and large quantities of toxic ash.  According to comments the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) submitted to the PSC in response to Covanta’s petition:

  •  New York’s garbage incinerators “continue to emit most air pollutants at emission rates that are greater than coal-fired power plants on a per megawatt-hour basis.”  

 

  • In 2009, New York’s incinerators released 14 times as much toxic mercury as coal-fired power plants for every hour of energy produced, as well as higher rates for lead, cadmium, dioxin, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and acid gases.

 

  • While incinerator emissions for many pollutants have declined since the 1990s, there has been no significant change in dioxin emissions.  Dioxins  are extremely potent man-made carcinogens that are formed during the incineration process.

 

Advocates urged the commissioners to once again reject including garbage incineration in the RPS, as they did in 2004 and 2010:

 

“Covanta is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by claiming trash-burning is clean,” said Laura Haight, Senior Environmental Associate, NYPIRG.  “It would be a misuse of public funds to put garbage incinerators on equal footing with wind and solar power for clean energy funds.” 

 

"Burning garbage to create energy is not a clean energy choice," said Ross Gould, Air & Energy Program Director, Environmental Advocates of New York. "Waste-to-energy facilities create more air pollution and climate-altering greenhouse gases than coal plants.  Investing in waste-to-energy projects undermines New York's renewable energy goals by diverting money intended for clean energy such as solar and wind."

 

“The public will lose in three ways if the PSC decides to classify dirty incinerators as renewable energy,” said Barbara Warren, Executive Director, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition.  “First, we will have more dirty energy facilities and secondly the fund will be depleted and fewer clean, renewable energy projects will be funded.  Third, far more jobs are produced by clean energy projects and New York needs these jobs.”

 

“The worst use of renewable tax payer dollars is subsidizing burning dirty garbage – it’s worse than doing nothing,” said Bill Cooke, Director of Government Relations, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

 

“As an organization that represents consumer and ratepayer interests, we think it is critical to protect the Renewable Portfolio Standard as a policy tool for developing clean and renewable energy,” said Chuck Bell, Programs Director for Consumers Union.  "The potential inclusion of energy generated by burning waste in garbage incinerators would mislead consumers and would be a form of publicly-sanctioned corporate greenwashing.  We should maintain high standards for what constitutes clean energy, to incentivize legitimate renewable projects – of which there are already many."

“Clean energy funding must be reserved to promote energy projects that are truly clean,” said Michael Seilback, VP of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York.  “We strongly support clean, green, renewable energy because it protects our environment and the air we breathe.  Garbage incineration has quite the opposite effect.  This plan would lead to greater air pollution and have a detrimental effect on lung health.”

“The New York State renewable portfolio standard is intended to foster the development of truly clean and renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and sustainable biomass,” said Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council.  “The facts show that waste combustors in New York import out-of-state garbage, create toxic air emissions, and are fed by non-renewable material.”

“The materials burned at incineration facilities, such as plastic, rubber, and textiles, are anything but renewable,” said Gavin Kearney, Environmental Justice Director, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.  “Adding this, and similar technologies, to the Renewable Portfolio Standard would siphon critical resources away from truly renewable energy sources like wind and solar, and provide a windfall to a lucrative and inefficient industry that routinely emits dangerous toxins into the air we breathe.”

The report, “Burning Public Money for Dirty Energy; Misdirected Subsidies for “Waste-to-Energy” Incinerators,” is available on-line at http://www.no-burn.org/burning-public-money-for-dirty-energy.

 

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