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Environmentby Fern Shen and Ian Round9:30 amSep 21, 20200

Clarke to introduce bill preventing city from entering into contracts with incinerators

The latest salvo in the BRESCO incinerator fight pitting the City Council against Mayor Young and the plant operator, Wheelabrator Technologies

Above: The tall smokestack of the Wheelabrator plant emits three times more pollutants than any other facility in Baltimore. (Brew file photo)

As Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young negotiates a settlement with Wheelabrator Technologies that could extend its contract to operate the BRESCO incinerator, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is seeking to stop the city from entering into a contract for any type of waste incineration.

At the first meeting of the City Council in over a month, Clarke is scheduled to introduce this evening a bill that she and co-sponsors call the “Ban the Burn at Every Turn Act.”

It would accomplish the goal of a stringent air emissions law that the Council passed earlier this year, but which is now under a legal challenge by Wheelabrator and others.

The Clarke measure would stop the city from renewing its contract with Wheelabrator to operate the 35-year-old waste-to-energy facility, the city’s largest source of industrial air pollution.

To extend the Wheelabrator contract “would tie the hands of the next mayor and City Council and lock in more years of major air pollution and health impacts,” Mike Ewall, of the Energy Justice Network, wrote in a statement.

“It would also sacrifice the rights of all Maryland local governments to have local clean air laws.”

High-Stakes Battle

To have legal impact, Ban the Burn would have to be signed into law by Young – not likely since city lawyers have confirmed they are considering extending an offer to renew Wheelabrator’s contract to run the controversial trash-burning plant.

Bill 20-0615 is, rather, the latest shot fired in the public awareness war that both sides are waging to highlight the decision Young appears poised to make before he leaves office in early December.

• Wheelabrator’s donation to Filbert Street Garden sparks conflict in South Baltimore (9/19/20)

Activists have been holding protests at the plant, calling on the city to defend Baltimore’s Clean Air Act, signed into law last year but shot down in federal court and now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Chiming in at its last full meeting on August 17, the Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on Young to end negotiations with Wheelabrator and fight for the act.

Meanwhile the New Hampshire-based company has accelerated its community outreach efforts – for the purpose, critics say, of winning goodwill, especially in the South Baltimore neighborhoods near BRESCO where opposition has been strongest.

Over the summer, Wheelabrator Baltimore sponsored a weekly segment on Fox45 touting community leaders’ good works and gifting them with $2,500 and 100 box lunches to distribute.

A local uproar ensued after one of those segments featured Rodette Jones, longtime steward of the Filbert Street Garden in Curtis Bay, which has been a stronghold of anti-incineration and Zero Waste activism.

Several activists say accepting money and food from Wheelabrator amounted to “selling out” and denounced the company for offering it.

“It sickens me that BRESCO would stoop so low as to try to divide the community,” said 2016 Goldman Prize winner Destiny Watford, an early anti-incinerator opponent.

Recent television spots, on WJZ and WMAR, have highlighted the company’s community recycling asistance.

A Curtis Bay leader told The Brew that in 2018, the company offered to assistance but only if the community association would drop it incinerator opposition.

Disputing that account, Wheelabrator spokeswoman Mary Urban said the donations community are solely meant to help out, especially during the pandemic, and are “not conditional.”

After The Brew reached out to Wheelabrator, we received a call from the resident of another South Baltimore neighborhood, Brooklyn.

Citing Wheelabrator’s recycling and clean-up assistance, Jenn Berg, president of the Friends of Garrett Park, said she was a friend of Urban and defended incineration and the company.

“That trash children around here are exposed to is much more dangerous than the incinerator,” Berg said.

Multiple Technologies Covered

Clarke’s bill doesn’t ban incineration. Instead, it would only prohibit the city government from contracting with incinerator operators and extending existing contracts.

Wheelabrator could keep other clients, but the city provides much of its trash and revenue.

Contracts banned under the Clarke bill would include:

• Gasification and pyrolysis, two-stage incinerators which turn waste into gas and typically burn the gas.

• Waste-to-fuel facilities which make waste into a burnable fuel usually to be burned elsewhere.

• Refuse-derived fuel plants that compress trash into pellets to be burned.

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