Editorial Archive

State WTE legislation is moving too fast

Frederick News Post
The state is supporting the concept of waste-to-energy incinerators with high-power support from Gov. Martin O'Malley, leading lawmakers and the Maryland Energy Administration for incentives to build the plants. The deal is this: Last week, in the closing days of the Annapolis session, which will end at midnight Monday for another year, lawmakers floated the idea of creating incentives for waste-to-energy plants. We're not sure where the idea came from, nor the motivation behind it. However, the energy administration has said the trash-burning facilities will help Maryland reach its 20 percent goal for renewable energy sources. The legislation will add waste to energy into the same "tier 1" category as wind, geothermal or solar plants, allowing the facilities to sell renewable energy credits at a more preferential price. That's the incentive. The state already has three waste-to-energy plants, the closest to us at Dickerson in Montgomery County. The fourth, controversially, is Frederick County's, which will burn waste from Frederick and Carroll counties. How this will play out for incinerator opponents and Frederick County's project will be interesting to watch.

Shelving WTE

Frederick News Post
The Frederick County Commissioners last week abandoned their deliberations on a proposed waste-to-energy facility. The WTE technology, which involves incinerating trash while producing electricity, had been for some time the board's favored option to address the county's solid waste disposal requirements in coming decades. The board cited a number of considerations in making its decision. Among the most influential were the huge cost of the WTE facility (in the $500 million to $600 million range), siting difficulties, pollution/health concerns, and public opposition that might generate costly lawsuits and push a solution further into the future. ome are characterizing the board's vote as a self-serving, political decision by commissioners unwilling to make a tough, but correct, call. The lone vote to proceed down the WTE path was cast by Commissioner John L. Thompson Jr., who has publicly said that a pro WTE vote by any board member would be tantamount to signing his or her own political death warrant. That may be a bit dramatic and probably overstates the case. While the opponents of WTE have run a vocal, high-profile campaign, it's clear that many others in the county supported the incinerator-based solution. The board's vote didn't actually kill the WTE option, but rather shelved it, removing it from current consideration in favor of other solutions. The alternatives the board will be investigating include increased/enhanced recycling and waste reduction, expanding the existing landfill, contracting to truck Frederick County's solid waste to an existing WTE elsewhere, and alternative technologies such as anaerobic digestion.

Positive impulse

Frederick News Post
The battle continues between those who support the county's investigation into waste-to-energy technology and those who advocate making recycling the focus of local solid waste management. Who is "right" isn't clear, and may never be, regardless of who eventually prevails. However, whether local enthusiasts are correct or not in their assertions about recycling's potential, the impetus behind this movement is generally a positive one. Rather than simply throwing money or technology at the county's solid waste concerns, recycling proponents are instead trying to mobilize the local community to accept this challenge and get personally involved, resident by resident, in a solution that requires their active participation. There are other issues as well, including the cost, siting and operating concerns, and environmental and health worries associated with the proposed WTE facility, which would generate electricity while incinerating solid waste. The recycling/waste reduction program preferred by many in the community would avoid all these issues to some extent.

Right vs. rush

Frederick News Post
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.

Countywide growth controls make sense

The Frederick Board of County Commissioners last month presented municipal leaders with a proposal that would force them to adopt a law to better control growth. Known as an "adequate public facilities ordinance," the law would prevent development if public facilities (roads, schools, police, fire and rescue, etc.) cannot handle the residents and traffic that accompany growth. Some towns have such laws, others do not and control growth using other policies. The efficacy of such measures can be a matter of debate, mostly because traffic continues to worsen, schools remain overcrowded, and fire and rescue personnel are at times overwhelmed. County commissioners are trying to change that by implementing one growth-control ordinance countywide, applicable to all municipalities. Such a move is rare, mostly because county and municipal governments are considered separate entities. Municipal leaders do not like county leaders telling them what to do anymore than county leaders like state leaders telling them what to do. But we see this move as necessary.

Trash options already available to residents

For the last several weeks, commissioners and other Frederick County officials have talked about options for solving the county’s waste disposal problems. Options batted around recently include an incinerator (or waste-to-energy facility) and a ‘‘zero waste park,” which includes expanded recycling options as well as commercial composting. In these discussions, several county officials have said the county already has top-notch recycling in place, with plans for expansion. But our question is, if a county has outstanding recycling programs, but few residents are aware of them, does it matter?

A healthy dose of skepticism and hope

We are skeptical that America can ever become a society that throws away nothing, or what some environmentalists would call a ‘‘zero-waste” community. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, or at least search for economical ways to throw away less. Officials from Carroll and Frederick counties have been invited to do just that by taking a trip out West. Caroline Eader — who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology and works as a paralegal for a science-based, nonprofit environmental land trust — splits her time between Frederick County and Boulder, Colo. She has invited Carroll and Frederick leaders to visit Boulder to see how that city handles its trash, and they are responding favorably. They are working to organize a trip for mid-June. Boulder adopted a resolution in May 2006 to work toward becoming a zero-waste city. It uses Eco-Cycle, a nonprofit organization, to manage its recycling program to work toward that goal. Eco-Cycle provides recycling to about 800 businesses, and operates a community recycling center for items that are typically difficult to recycle, such as porcelain sinks, Styrofoam blocks and electronic equipment.

Waste not?

Frederick News Post
Mike Marschner, director of Frederick County's Utilities and Solid Waste Management Division, would like the Frederick County Commissioners to make some decisions. The decisions he's calling for will be some of the more momentous ones this board makes during its tenure, as they will affect how the county handles its massive volumes of solid waste well into the future. In a recent story in The Frederick News-Post, Marschner acknowledges that these decisions will be tough ones, but he also says they "need to happen in the next couple of months because we need to be given some direction." To help the commissioners in their decision-making process, Marschner is scheduled to give a lengthy and comprehensive presentation to the board on Oct. 22. That presentation will be his vision of how the county should proceed in addressing the solid waste it generates. According to the News-Post story, Marschner anticipates that his proposal will be a multifaceted one. Among the things he is expected to recommend are enhanced recycling efforts, waste-prevention programs, and the construction of a waste-to-energy (WTE) plant -- an incinerator that generates electricity from the trash it burns. Proposals for a local waste-to-energy plant have been met with a significant amount of resistance from some private citizens, as well as environmental groups. They have presented an array of arguments against such a plant, including its initial and operating costs, as well as its potential environmental impact.