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Residents, environmentalists applaud proposed ‘Clean Air Law’

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    Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media Former EPA official Judith Enck addresses the Coeymans Town Council about the proposed "Clean Air Law" the board is considering.
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    Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media The Coeymans Town Council listens to members of the public commenting on the proposed "Clean Air Law."
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    Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media Resident Christine Primomo speaks out in favor of the proposed law that would regulate the large-scale burning of trash in the town of Coeymans.
September 6, 2018 12:07 am

COEYMANS — Back in December of 2017, a local furor erupted over a proposal to import solid waste from the state of Connecticut to be burned in the cement kiln at the Lafarge plant on Route 9W. Now, the Coeymans Town Council is considering a new law that would prevent similar proposals in the future.

A public hearing was held at Coeymans Town Hall on Aug. 23 to gather comments on proposed Local Law No. 2 of 2018, dubbed the “Clean Air Law.”

The law sets clean air standards on companies operating within the town with regard to “regulating burning or related processing of wastes, and prohibiting the same on a large scale,” according to the proposed law.

“The intent of the law is to promote and protect public health and welfare of the residents of the town of Coeymans by regulating burning and regulating the processing of waste, and prohibiting the same on a large-scale basis,” Coeymans Town Supervisor Philip Crandall said as he opened the meeting.

The law was drawn up in response to a proposal that came to light in December when a plan was under consideration to import trash from the state of Connecticut to be burned in Lafarge’s cement kiln. At the time, the proposal for Lafarge — which was put forward by the company Mustang Renewable Power Ventures — would have brought trash generated by 70 Connecticut towns into Coeymans for burning. Previously, the garbage had been disposed of at an incinerator in Hartford, Connecticut, that was outdated and the state was considering shutting down.

At the time, Lafarge denied that the company would have imported out-of-state trash to be burned in the kiln, and that Mustang’s proposal was made “without our consent.” Local opponents to the plan expressed skepticism at the time. The state of Connecticut ultimately selected another option.

Now, though, Coeymans is looking to adopt a law that would regulate any future proposals to burn trash, setting strict air emission standards on mercury, sulfur dioxide, dioxins/furans and nitrogen oxide, and requiring the monitoring of smokestack emissions for a large number of pollutants.

The first member of the public to speak was Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency. She was in full support of the proposed law.

“I read it and I think it is terrific,” Enck said.

“They [Lafarge] were quite serious about bringing large quantities of municipal solid waste from the state of Connecticut to be burned here,” Enck said of the original proposal at the end of last year. “I said in December this would be a major source of air pollution, even with the more sophisticated pollution controls that are now at the plant. This community would still be seeing large amounts of heavy metals — mercury, lead, arsenic — they will bring things here that are not easy to recycle, like a lot of plastics.”

Enck added that currently, the U.S. only recycles roughly 9 percent of plastics, but that number is expected to be lowered even further with the blocking of the importation of recyclable plastics by China, where much of the U.S.-generated plastic currently goes.

“When you burn plastic, it forms and releases dioxins and furans into the atmosphere, the most toxic human-made chemicals known to science,” Enck said.

She said that at the time of the proposal, Lafarge and Mustang called the incinerated trash “alternative fuel” and “process-engineered fuel,” but that “essentially it is shredded solid waste that would be burned in the kiln.”

Enck expressed strong support for the law proposed by the town council.

“The only way you will be protected from proposals like this in the future is by passing the law that is before you today,” Enck said. “I think it is reasonable, it is well drafted. It is not a complete prohibition, it is a prohibition on burning large quantities of materials, and if between 5 and 25 tons of the material is burned a day, it would have to accord with the strictest air pollution controls and the ash residue would have to be managed as hazardous waste.”

“This law is the best protection to make sure you are not facing another threat like that, and it will help ensure air quality for local residents,” Enck concluded.

Coeymans resident Christine Primomo also spoke in favor of the law. She said that in addition to potential air pollutants, the proposal would have created other problems for the town as well.

“I was here back in December because we were horrified when we heard about the proposal for the trucking of this garbage, and besides all of the horrific stuff that would be pouring into the atmosphere… also the trucking of the stuff,” Primomo said. “I can just picture the garbage flying out of these trucks as they zoom up and down our highways and roads, and we have enough of that already.”

“I applaud this board for all you are doing environmentally to help reduce this,” Primomo added, saying taking this step could encourage other municipalities to take similar actions to protect the environment.

Barbara Heintzen, a New Baltimore resident who owns land in Coeymans, read aloud a letter from the environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper, which also supports the law.

“Riverkeeper supports the efforts by the town of Coeymans to prevent or greatly control solid waste and airborne pollution from entering the Hudson River and the surrounding environment through appropriate local laws and other measures,” according to the letter from Richard Webster, legal program director for Riverkeeper. “We applaud this as a step toward protecting the Hudson from new sources of pollution… and preventing trash incineration technologies from being implemented in the town of Coeymans in proximity to the Hudson River, the Coeymans Creek and Hannacroix Creek.”

Then, Heintzen submitted her own comment on the proposed law, and said it is her belief that industry and a clean environment can coexist.

“I think Coeymans can become an example of how you have industry that maintains a clean environment,” Heintzen said. “We keep thinking we have to choose one or the other. I think we can start to work toward making these both function together and that means creating laws like this one that says yes, you can do things, but you have to keep it clean. I want us to be an example to other communities of how this can be done.”

Coeymans resident Sylvia Lawler, who is also chair of the town’s Conservation Advisory Council, also spoke about the need for the proposed law — and to take into consideration other industries that are in the region.

“I think one thing we have to consider is that we have four of the state’s five worst polluters, just by the nature of the industry, in close proximity — we have Owens Corning, we have Lafarge, we have Sabic, we have CSX,” Lawler said. “These are heavy polluters, just by their nature… That’s why this law is especially important.”

Owens Corning and Sabic are located in nearby Feura Bush, while CSX is based in Selkirk.

No industry representatives spoke either in favor of or against the proposed law during the public hearing.

Deputy Town Supervisor Tom Dolan said the comment period will remain open until the town council’s next meeting Sept. 13, when members of the public can submit comments or documentation about the proposed law.

“We will review everything that is given to us — the more materials we have, the better it will be,” Dolan said.

Town Councilman Jim Youmans said he expects positive reactions from the community to the proposed law.

“I was here when we had that meeting back in December and it looked a little scary there for a while,” Youmans said. “As I go out in the community and talk to friends and neighbors, I have not heard one person say, ‘You know what would be great? If we could burn some garbage in that cement kiln.’ Not one person. I feel good about the law.”

Crandall said he has met with management from Lafarge and they reiterated that they have no intention of burning trash at the plant.

“We have met with Mr. Fletcher from Lafarge three times now and he has told us that they have no intention of doing that,” Crandall said. “I am trying to look at both sides and be fair, but do what is absolutely best for the people of the town.”

Crandall said the town council will not vote on the law at their next meeting, but that it should be decided by the end of the year.

“We are taking our time on this to make sure we get all the comments and all the information possible,” Crandall said. “This is a very important law.”