20-year-old Baltimore Activist Wins International Environmental Award

Washington, D.C. — The Environmental Integrity Project congratulates a 20-year-old Baltimore activist who was named today as the recipient of an international environmental award, The Goldman Prize.  The honor for Destiny Watford is a major victory for community members who have been working for years to stop a proposal to build what would be America’s biggest trash-burning incinerator.

Watford, of Curtis Bay, helped to start a high school student group called Free Your Voice to fight the Energy Answers project when she was 17 years old. She was one of six winners of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize, which honors grassroots environmental heroes around the world. Watford was the only recipient of this year’s prize from the continental U.S., with the other winners from Slovakia, Cambodia, Puerto Rico, Peru, and Tanzania.

Watford and fellow students at Benjamin Franklin High School in far south Baltimore were concerned that the air pollution from the proposed incinerator in Fairfield would make air quality problems worse in their community, which already suffers from high rates of asthma.  The Environmental Integrity Project helped community members with their efforts to make sure the project’s permit complied with the federal Clean Air Act.

According to the Goldman Prize website: “A huge breakthrough moment came when Watford and Free Your Voice students discovered that Baltimore City Public Schools, along with other city government agencies and local nonprofits, had signed an agreement to purchase energy from the incinerator. In May 2014, Watford and her fellow students attended a school board meeting to urge them to divest from the project. Destiny gave a compelling presentation, students showcased art and music performances, and parents joined in with testimonies of support. …”

“In February 2015, in response to concerns from students and their families, the school board voted to terminate its contract with Energy Answers, the incinerator’s developer. By the fall of that year, all 22 customers canceled their contracts, leaving the incinerator with no market for its product,” according to the Goldman Prize website. “The victory marked a moment of rebirth for Curtis Bay residents who finally felt that their voices were heard and that their health and lives mattered.”

For more details, visit the Goldman Prize website.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and other allies have been working to support the residents of Curtis Bay in their efforts to challenge the incinerator project.   On March 17, in response to a legal challenge from EIP, the Maryland Department of the Environment decided that the permit for the project — approved back in 2010 — had expired, meaning that the New York-based developers could not proceed without a new permit.

“Community members have been working to bring truly green community driven positive alternatives like solar, recycling, and composting that provide good jobs for residents, and don’t put our lives at risk,” Watford said at the time in an EIP press release. “The incinerator was holding us back from that positive vision. “

For more information on EIP’s work on the incinerator and other pollution sources in Curtis Bay, click here.