(Source: The Frederick News-Post)trackingBy Bethany Rodgers, The Frederick News-Post, Md.

A study released Thursday by an environmental group reported that waste-to-energy trash incinerators release lead and mercury at a greater rate than some coal-fired plants.

With several trash-burning facility projects in the pipeline in Maryland, including one in Frederick County, the study’s authors said state lawmakers need to firm up renewable energy standards.

“This report really shows that waste-to-energy incineration is not clean, and it’s not renewable,” Robbie Orvis, report author and research analyst at the Environmental Integrity Project, said Thursday in a telephone news conference.

“We urge Maryland to reconsider the path it’s on to become the trash incineration capital of the United States.”

The incinerator planned for construction near the Ballenger-McKinney Wastewater Treatment Plant would burn trash to generate electricity. A private contractor, Wheelabrator Technologies, has designed the waste-to-energy facility and is seeking permits to move forward with the project.

Plans also are under way to expand an incinerator in Harford County and build one in Baltimore, according to the report released by the EIP with the support of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Clean Water Action.

The report found that the state’s two major existing incinerators produce more lead and mercury per hour of energy than its four largest coal-fired plants. The waste-to-energy plants also give off greenhouse gases at a high rate compared with the coal plants, according to the study.

The state categorizes incinerators as a renewable energy source, a classification that brings with it a possible tax credit and other perks. The decision drew disapproval from the study authors, who said the waste-to-energy plants might crowd out solar- and wind-power sources.

But proponents of the trash-burning plants deny that the incinerators squelch the development of other energy systems. “We need a mix of renewable energy sources,” said Robin Davidov, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, an organization managing Frederick County’s incinerator project.

Davidov also contested the study’s method of comparing incinerators with coal-fired plants. The report failed to factor in the polluting effects of mining and transporting coal, focusing only on power plant output.

“I don’t know how you can compare one to the other when you’re not looking at the whole picture,” she said.

During Thursday’s conference, Mike Tidwell, director of the climate action network, said state officials were the ones without a complete perspective.

“[T]here are state leaders who actually believe they are doing a good thing for the environment by burning trash … when it actually makes our problem worse,” he said.

As an alternative to the incinerators, the state should ramp up recycling efforts and foster development of solar and wind energy sources, the report authors indicate.

Commissioners President Blaine Young said while he hasn’t seen the report, he doesn’t have health concerns about a waste-to-energy plant. And in assessing the environmental impact of the incinerator, it’s important to consider that most of the county’s trash now is bound for landfills, he said.

“There are only two types of landfills: The ones that leak and the ones that will,” he said.

The costs of driving trash to out-of-county dumping sites is another issue that a waste-to-energy plant could help address, he said.

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