Greens urge city to dump idea of waste-to-energy plant on Staten Island,
March 23rd, 2012
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Environmentalists are taking the Bloomberg administration to task over its plan to develop waste-to-energy plants -- including the controversial proposed siting of the city's first pilot project at Fresh Kills.
NYPIRG, which is spearheading the anti-plant crusade, called the technology "risky, polluting and unsustainable," and said it poses "the same environmental and public health concerns as conventional garbage incinerators" because it would release "significant amounts of air pollution" -- including mercury, dioxins and greenhouse gases.
"Like conventional incinerators," NYPIRG said, these plants "generate large quantities of toxic residue that must be treated and disposed of, such as ash, slag and waste water."
The New York Public Interest Research Group said the process uses "heat to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into synthetic gas and burn it to generate energy" and noted "there are no commercial-scale gasification, pyrolysis or plasma MSW incinerators operating in the United States."
NYPIRG outlined its opposition to the plan in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg that was co-signed by a host of environmental and good-government groups, including: The Sierra Club, the American Lung Association in New York and Consumers Union, along with Staten Island Citizens for Clean Air and North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island.
"This is the last thing we need on Staten Island," said Beryl Thurman, executive director/president of the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy. "It would produce a toxic backlash. There are not enough buffers or filters to protect the residential community. It should not be at Fresh Kills or on Todt Hill. You don't hear the mayor say, 'We decided to put an incinerator in Times Square, that is how clean it is.'"
The Bloomberg administration issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) earlier this month, looking for contractors to build a plant within the city limits or an 80-mile radius. But it specifically highlighted the former landfill site at Fresh Kills in its RFP with a notation that it would run a shuttle bus to the Island for prospective contractors.
While city officials, including Borough President James Molinaro, visited a waste-to-energy plant in Germany, and have attested to its benefits, the NYPIRG missive maintained that "in other countries, these experimental technologies have been plagued with cost overruns and operational problems, including malfunctions, explosions, shutdowns and accidental releases of toxic gases. As a result, many of these plants have never made it past the design stage or have had to be permanently shut down."
The NYPIRG letter also maintained that consultants hired by the city to study the technologies "made no effort to independently verify the companies' safety and performance claims."
"These technologies have experienced significant problems in other countries," said Laura Haight, NYPIRG senior environmental associate. "It is disappointing that the city is continuing to advance these risky and polluting technologies."
Said Ms. Thurman: "They just can't sell us on some facility in Germany and say, 'It works fine.'"
But in a written response to the NYPIRG group, Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway said the RFP "builds on studies conducted as part of the city's Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) to identify new and emerging technologies, already in widespread use internationally, to be implemented on a pilot basis in New York City. Traditional 'mass burn' waste-to-energy and conventional refuse-derived fuel technologies have been excluded from consideration and will not be considered responsive to this RFP."
Added Holloway: "To be selected, any proposer must be able to demonstrate and validate the effectiveness of their proposed technology by pointing to a reference facility where the technology is in use. ... The RFP incorporates the 'fair share' principles of SWMP by requiring proposers to submit a detailed plan for community engagement throughout the permitting, construction and operation of the facility, as well as information regarding other municipal and solid waste facilities in the vicinity."
But the NYPIRG group maintained: "Rather than gambling on risky and unproven incineration technologies, New York City should emphasize waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting, which would divert 80 percent or more of the waste stream."
City Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) has been the most vocal opponent of a waste-to-energy plant at Fresh Kills, and Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) has also publicly thumped the plan.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) released a statement in opposition earlier this week, saying he will introduce legislation to "prohibit the state Department of Environmental Conservation from issuing permits which would allow siting [of such plants] on any landfill which has been closed within the last 30 years" -- thus blocking the possibility of using Fresh Kills as the city's staging ground.
Last weekend, Republican Sam Pirozzolo said he would run against Cusick and made the announcement outside the former Fresh Kills landfill.