COEYMANS – Local officials and environmental advocates on Wednesday voiced their vehement opposition to a proposed plan that if enacted, would send 116,000 tons of garbage to the Lafarge cement plant each year for burning.
Town and county officials, along with local environmental advocates, held a jam-packed press conference at Coeymans Town Hall on Wednesday morning to discuss the proposal that was first revealed by a Pennsylvania environmental lawyer two weeks ago.
Mike Ewall, executive director with the Energy Justice Network, informed town officials that Lafarge was included in a proposal by Mustang Renewable Power Ventures as one of three options that are being considered by the state of Connecticut to deal with trash from 70 towns with the impending closure of an existing incinerator. It was the first time local officials had been told of the proposal.
“What is not recycled would be sent to the Lafarge plant in Ravena where it would be shredded and then burned in the cement kiln. We just learned about this two weeks ago from a national environmental group in Pennsylvania,” said Judith Enck, an environmental advocate with Rensselaer County and a former official with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The proposal refers to the trash as a “Process Engineered Fuel” that is an alternative, renewable fuel for cement kilns.
“This is basically shredding garbage and then burning it, but putting a fancy name on it,” Enck said.
There would be an estimated 116,000 tons of Connecticut waste coming to the plant, “and it would be for 30 years,” Enck added.
Coeymans Town Supervisor Phil Crandall said there has been rapid growth of development in the area, but the effects have not been effectively studied. The trash proposal adds a new layer, he said.
“We need to pause here. There has been no effective environmental review of the cumulative impact of all present and planned industrial activity in the town. Instead, trees are being clear cut, cattails are being cut down, heavily laden semis are crowding our narrow roads,” Crandall said. “Now we are being told to accept 116,000 tons of garbage for burning. Where is this leading? Will it leave Hudson Valley residents any healthier? I think not.”
Crandall said he has sent a letter from the town council to the governor of Connecticut and their energy department expressing local opposition from the town and village.
“We are totally opposed to any garbage being burned in this area, and we will do anything to stop it,” Crandall said.
Lafarge has released a statement claiming that it is no longer considering doing business with Mustang Renewable Power Ventures, and that the company was included in the proposal “without our consent,” according to plant manager Dave Fletcher, who released the statement.
There was no representative at the press conference from Lafarge, but asked if the company had officially ruled out the proposal, Town Councilman Tom Dolan said they had not done so. Enck agreed.
“I think the company planned on going forward until local residents heard about this. It’s kind of obvious,” Enck said.
“This went through two levels of approval in Connecticut. They are seriously considering this,” she added.
Local officials and environmental advocates, however, are calling on the company to make their position official and state unequivocally that garbage will “never” be transported to Lafarge for burning.
“When we first heard about this, I immediately got a hold of Lafarge. We told them we wanted something in writing that they were not going to burn garbage in our town, and to this day, there is no email, no letter, nothing, and that was over a week ago,” Crandall said.
A similar plan to burn solid waste is underway at a LafargeHolcim plant in Florida.
“This tells me that Mustang and LafargeHolcim have a history of working on this,” Enck said. “This would be a major source of air pollution, even with the upgrades at the Ravena plant. The contaminants I am most concerned about would be heavy metals, mercury, lead and arsenic. Also, if they pull out some of the recyclables in Connecticut, they will have a lot of plastics left over. It is very hard to recycle plastics, especially plastic packaging, other than No. 1 and No. 2 plastics.”
“What happens when you burn plastic? Burning plastics forms and releases dioxins and furans, the most toxic human-made chemicals known in science,” Enck said.
Officials and advocates at the press conference were not convinced the company would not move ahead with the plan.
“If they are indeed not going to burn solid waste at the cement kiln, that is good news. However, the state of Connecticut is still considering this proposal… They still have this proposal in front of them, and they fully intend to make a decision by Dec. 31,” Enck noted.
Enck called on Lafarge to take three steps with regard to the proposal. First, she wants company officials to “share with the public the letter they sent to the environmental agency saying the company was fully on board with burning in Ravena. This is far more than casual conversations… I want to see that letter.”
Second, she called on Lafarge to send a letter to the state of Connecticut officially withdrawing from the process.
Finally, she wants the company to make a clear, written commitment that they would “never burn solid waste at the cement kiln, and that includes refuse-derived fuel, tire waste, whatever they want to call it - we know what it is, and we don’t want it burned here.”
That statement led to a round of applause from the audience.
Enck urged the public to send comments before Dec. 31 to Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org opposing the proposal. A decision is expected this week.
Local officials, including the majority of the county legislature, as well as a slew of environmental groups, have already officially voiced their opposition in writing.
Phil Calderone, deputy county executive from Albany County, spoke on behalf of County Executive Daniel McCoy, who was ill and unable to attend the press conference.
“Lafarge is an important economic driver in this area and we respect the efforts they have made recently in becoming more environmentally conscious with their facility. But this proposal just cannot happen,” Calderone said. “We need an unequivocal expression from them that they will not begin the process at any time of converting waste energy in the Coeymans area.”
Town Councilman Tom Dolan said that at first he could not believe a plan to burn trash for energy was possible, that there would be protective measures in place. But he found out that was not the case.
He was also surprised Lafarge was considering the proposal. He noted that it has received opposition “from all walks” of life, and from officials on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle.
There were steps the town could take with an eye to the future, he added.
“Under New York law, there are things the town and the county can do to stop the importation of garbage and the burning of garbage - to enact stricter air quality measures. These are all things we will be working on in the next few months from the town’s point of view,” Dolan said.
“I am willing to take Lafarge at their word, that they are not interested in this proposal,” Dolan continued, “but that does not in any way relieve our obligation as town board members not to follow through and put protections in place for the next thing that comes down the road.”
Coeymans Town Councilman Jim Youmans expressed his opposition to the plan and agreed the town would take steps to prevent any such proposal.
“The town board will do everything in our power to stop this,” Youmans said. “It is my understanding that there are three states in the country where local municipalities can pass legislation with stricter air standards than the state allows. We will be working on that very diligently in the coming months.”
Local environmentalists urged the community to take steps on its own to reduce the amount of trash in general.
“It’s a terrible idea to burn garbage,” said Manna Jo Greene from Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. “I suggest that we approach zero net garbage as the solution – reusing, recycling and composting, and in this case, ask how much can Connecticut divert by doing these things.”
“If you burn it, you know you are going to breathe it,” Greene added.