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Environmental advocate: Clean Air Law would protect public health

December 20, 2018 01:57 am

COEYMANS — The Coeymans Town Council is expected to vote on the proposed Clean Air Law at its next meeting Dec. 27.

Environmental advocate Mike Ewall, from the Energy Justice Network, has worked with the board to come up with the proposed law, and at the board’s Dec. 14 meeting present-ed an overview.

The issue first came up more than a year ago when a proposal was made that would transport trash from 70 Connecticut towns to the Lafarge cement plant on Route 9W, where it would be shredded and incinerated.

“I got a call about 13 months ago, in November 2017, by a community group in Hartford, Connecticut,” Ewall explained. “They had learned that their trash incinerator, which was the largest air polluter in the city of Hartford and one of the largest polluters in the state, was very old and the state was trying to shut it down. It was a state-run facility and still is. The state was looking at alternatives.”

Three proposals were under discussion at the time, Ewall said, including the Lafarge plan.

“I evaluated each of the three proposals and noticed that one of them mentioned specifi-cally the cement kiln here in the town of Coeymans, but it was just referred to as ‘the Rav-ena plant,’” Ewall said. “They were talking about taking 70 towns’ worth of Connecticut trash, bringing it here without any processing, shredding it here, and burning it in the ce-ment kiln. Having followed this industry for almost 30 years now, my sense of those three proposals was that the most likely proposal was going to be that one, so we focused most of our energy on trying to stop that from becoming a reality.”

He alerted officials from the town of Coeymans, the village of Ravena, and the state. All three spoke out against the plan. The proposal was ultimately withdrawn, and the state of Connecticut went with another option, choosing instead to modernize the Hartford incin-erator.

But the issue left local town officials wanting to come up with legislation that would pre-vent a similar issue in the future, so they hired Ewall to help draft the Clean Air Law.

“New York is one of three states that is very lucky in that the state government grants lo-cal municipal and county governments, including towns like yours, the ability to have stricter air pollution laws and stricter waste laws than the state and federal minimums,” Ewall said. “There are only two other states that permit both, so you are in a very good position to have control over your own destiny.”

He said the proposed law, as it currently stands, takes a few steps to protect public health while adhering to legal requirements.

“It does not specifically talk about any particular company – that would be illegal, and we are not trying to do that,” he said. “What we are doing is trying to protect the town from any company that might try to burn more than a certain amount of waste or other solid fuels that are similarly dangerous. We are not banning coal or other fossil fuels that they would normally burn at an industry like a cement kiln, or any other power plant that might come in. We are specifically focused on waste burning and things that I know are more polluting, even [more] than fossil fuels.”

Ewall said the law includes a broad definition of waste types so “we cover all the bases,” and covers any facility with the capacity to burn more than five tons of waste per day. The law would impose certain restrictions on such facilities when it comes to burning waste.

“They are not allowed to burn more than 25 tons per day, so no one is inviting any large waste incinerators into the town,” Ewall said. “I work with communities around the coun-try where there are plans for burning everything from trash to tires to medical waste to hazardous waste to sewer sludge. You don’t want to have to deal with that.”

Waste-burning facilities would have to be of a relatively small size, he added, “and they would have to meet certain criteria that are very strict if they are going to burn anywhere between one and 25 tons per day.”

The law, if adopted, would require such companies to continuously monitor about 20 dif-ferent pollutants. They would also have to post that information on a public website “in real time, so the world knows what the pollution actually is that is coming out into the air,” he said.

Any such facility would also have to “meet North America’s strictest requirements for waste incinerators for four different pollutants,” Ewall remarked.

Those pollutants would include nitrogen oxides, which can trigger asthma attacks; sulfur dioxide, which can also cause respiratory problems; mercury, which can lead to neurolog-ical and other health problems; and dioxins, known as “the most toxic chemicals that are human made that are known to science,” Ewall said.

“To have adequate protection for public health, we will make sure that if they are going to do this, they need to keep it small and make sure they are using modern technology so they know what is coming out of the smokestack and tell the public in a way we can easily find it, and meet the most protective standards that exist in North America,” Ewall con-cluded.

Town Councilman James Youmans thanked Ewall for his work on the proposed law “and alerting us to this potential disaster,” Youmans said.

“I haven’t talked to anyone locally here who thinks that burning waste in that cement kiln is a good idea,” Youmans said, referring to the now-defunct proposal to burn trash at Lafarge.

Ewall acknowledged that Lafarge recently completed a major modernization project to reduce pollution released from the plant on a daily basis.

David Fletcher, the plant manager at Lafarge, addressed the town council about the pro-posed law and requested permission for the company to make a presentation of its own.

“I understand the gentleman’s position,” Fletcher said, referring to Ewall. “Certainly, eve-ryone is entitled to their opinion about these things. We would be happy to make a presentation of our own at some point if we are given the opportunity. We think there are a number of aspects to this that need to be discussed.”

Fletcher added that Lafarge representatives have already provided the town council with written comments on the proposed law.

Town Supervisor Philip Crandall confirmed that the board is planning on voting on the Clean Air Law on Dec. 27, but would allow Lafarge representatives to give a presentation outlining their position on the proposal prior to the vote.

The Coeymans Town Council will hold its next meeting, at which the vote is expected to take place, on Thursday, Dec. 27, at 7 p.m. at Coeymans Town Hall, located at 18 Russell Ave. in Ravena.