Documents Show Proposed Trash Incinerator in Baltimore Has Invalid Permit

Although New York-based Developers Are Trying to Push Ahead with Building the Largest Incinerator in U.S., the Energy Answers Project is Illegal, Records Indicate

BALTIMORE, MD. — The proposed construction in Baltimore of the largest waste-burning incinerator in the U.S. would violate the federal CIean Air Act because the developers do not have a valid air pollution control permit, according to documents obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project.

[Update on March 25, 2015:  Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, working with city’s financial review board, cancelled the city’s power purchasing agreement with the New York-based developers of the incinerator project, dealing a severe blow to the proposal.  Other regional governments also cancelled their contracts. For details, click here.]

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws and protection of public health, is working with United Workers and a community student group called Free Your Voice to ensure that the proposed Energy Answers trash-burning plant in the Fairfield neighborhood of south Baltimore complies with the Clean Air Act.

The organizations sent a letter to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) today (Sept. 8, 2014) urging the state agency to declare the permit for the incinerator null and void. In June, MDE placed a temporary hold on construction of the massive project, but, since then, the New York-based developers have indicated their intention to try to resolve the issues and move forward.

“It is extremely important that plants like this one, which will produce large amounts of dangerous pollution in an already-polluted area, comply with the law,” said Leah Kelly, an attorney with EIP. “We are asking MDE to hold Energy Answers accountable for compliance with the Clean Air Act and permit requirements that help clean up areas with high levels of air pollution.”

To compensate for pollution from the new incinerator, Energy Answers was required to pay for more than 1,500 tons of “offsets” in the form of commitments to cut emissions from other facilities that harm air quality in Baltimore. Energy Answers has failed to obtain those agreements, even though its permit approvals are contingent on meeting this requirement.

Records received from MDE show that, as of early August 2014, Energy Answers had paid for about a quarter of the required offsets for nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, two pollutants that form ground-level ozone and contribute to Baltimore’s persistent failure to meet air quality standards for ozone. Energy Answers also failed to obtain the total amount of offsets required for two additional pollutants, fine particles and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to fine particle pollution in Baltimore.

“Energy Answers’ proposed incinerator is riddled with violations, making it clear from the beginning that this project is a failed development and a threat to the human right to breathe clean air,” said Destiny Watford, a leader with United Workers who is a long-time resident of the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, which is near the incinerator site.

Energy Answers must offset its pollution because Baltimore is classified as not meeting federal standards for ozone and fine particles. Both pollutants can aggravate the symptoms of respiratory diseases including asthma, and studies have associated fine particle pollution with premature death from heart and lung disease.

The permit for the proposed incinerator requires Energy Answers to pay for offsets that would compensate for the release of at least 781 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, 125 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), 156 tons of fine particle pollution, and 446 tons of sulfur dioxide. The permit makes all of Energy Answers’ approvals under the Clean Air Act conditional on Energy Answers meeting this requirement.

According to records received by EIP from MDE, the developers have so far acquired only a portion of these offsets. In an August 5, 2013 letter from Energy Answers to MDE, Energy Answers stated that it had paid for credits for 196 tons of nitrogen oxide pollution, 34.7 tons of volatile organic compounds, 325 tons of sulfur dioxides, and 113 tons of fine particle pollution. Records show that, as of early August 2014, no additional offsets had been obtained.

“Because Energy Answers has never obtained the total number of offsets required under (its permit), the Clean Air Act Approvals have never taken effect and are invalid,” EIP attorney Leah Kelly wrote to MDE Secretary Robert Summers in the Sept. 8 letter.

“Moreover, the Clean Air Act Approvals are required in order for Energy Answers to commence construction of the incinerator ….and the deadline for Energy Answers to commence construction was August 6, 2013,” Kelly wrote. “Therefore, the deadline has passed for the Clean Air Act Approvals to be made effective, and Energy Answers must seek new Clean Air Act Approvals in order to construct its facility.”

Energy Answers first received its permit in 2010. In early 2012, the company requested an 18-month extension of a deadline to start construction of the incinerator. MDE granted an extension to August 6, 2013. The project now needs new Clean Air Act approvals, which would require that Energy Answers show compliance with current air quality standards and look at any advances in pollution control technology that might further reduce the incinerator’s emissions. A public hearing would also be required.

EIP sent a letter to MDE on July 24 asking for a meeting with the state agency to discuss the offsets issue, but MDE declined to respond. MDE notified Energy Answers in June of 2014 that its failure to maintain approximately 80 tons of offsets violates the law, but this action does not address Energy Answers’ failure to obtain the total number of offsets required under its permit.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws. Its goal is to hold polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.

For a copy of EIP’s Sept. 8, 2014, letter to MDE about the incinerator, click here. 

Media contact: Tom Pelton, Director of Communications, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574