For decades, human rights and environmental activists have been fighting the high levels of pollution that are released when waste and coal are burned. In response, the coal and incineration industries are finding ways to avoid regulations and attack decades of victories for clean air and public health.
On Monday, the US Court of Appeals will hear arguments against an EPA decision that opened the door to an influx of toxic pollution. By changing which substances are called waste, this EPA loophole allows unregulated waste burning across the country without emission controls or reporting requirements. According to Earthjustice, who is representing a coalition of community groups in this case, “the Obama EPA has unleashed a public health threat of epic proportions” by exposing companies to toxic emissions associated with burning tires, construction waste and debris, solvents, and other industrial by-products.
The EPA decision coincides with a push by the waste burning industry to redefine itself as a renewable energy source in order to gain incentives in the Clean Power Plan and similar federal policies.. At the same time the EPA allowed the loophole central to Monday’s case, it also allowed significantly weakened pollution regulations for coal plants that burn just 15% biomass (organic waste) alongside fossil fuels. Then in the fall of 2014, the EPA released a memo announcing that burning organic waste has no negative impact on the climate—despite extensive studies showing the opposite. Together, the recent EPA pollution loopholes and the 2014 memo could lead to a significant new wave of incentives for incineration.
“Incentives for waste burning would mean increased carbon dioxide and toxic pollution like dioxin, lead, and mercury. For overburdened communities already dealing with hazardous air pollution, these changes create even more environmental health risks – including those associated with climate change,” says Monica Wilson of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. “If states follow the EPA’s lead as they roll out the Clean Power Plan, incentives meant for wind, solar, and hydropower would instead go to increased burning of waste, and give coal plants a lifeline to keep burning.”
Available to interview
For more information on the lawsuit:
Keith Rushing, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5236(202) 797-5236; (757) 897-2147(757) 897-2147
Mary Booth, Partnership for Policy Integrity, (917) 885-2573(917) 885-2573
For more information on campaigns against the EPA and subsidies for incineration:
Monica Wilson, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 510-682-7663510-682-7663
Jim Schermbeck, Downwinders at Risk, 806-787-6567806-787-6567
For more information on the frontline community impacts of burning waste as “renewable energy:”
Ahmina Maxey, Zero Waste Detroit, 313-986-2990313-986-2990
Greg Sawtell, United Workers, 513-638-7107513-638-7107
Molly Greenberg, Ironbound Community Corporation, 732-986-4840732-986-4840