Incinerator companies sue city over emissions law

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Photo by Artondra Hall, via Flickr.

Two operators of Baltimore incinerators sued the city in response to a law passed earlier this year that limits emissions, which the companies argued violated state and federal law and was passed with the intent of harming their businesses.

Wheelabrator, the New Hampshire-based owner of the waste-to-energy BRESCO Incinerator on Annapolis Road in South Baltimore, said in the complaint that the new restrictions and reporting requirements would force the company to close the facility “for some indeterminate period of time, perhaps forever.”

Curtis Bay Energy, which disposes of medical waste, would also have to close temporarily to install “unnecessary and financially burdensome equipment upgrades,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

The companies argue the city overstepped when it set stricter standards than those accepted by the EPA and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), something the local government did not have the authority to do under those federal and state agreements.

“The City’s ordinance, which will cost local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, sets arbitrary standards,” the companies said in a statement. “In contrast, the existing stringent limits in federal and state regulations are based upon evidence-based scientific studies that aggressively protect public health and the environment by requiring installation and operation of the best available pollution control technologies.”

The National Waste & Recycling Association and Energy Recovery Council, two trade groups, and TMS Hauling, a small Baltimore-based trash removal company, are also plaintiffs in the suit.

Passed unanimously by the city council, the Baltimore Clean Air Act places caps on the harmful pollutants emitted by commercial incinerators and requires more reporting and monitoring by 2020. The limits become stricter in 2022, the same year Wheelabrator’s contract with the city expires.

In the lead-up to passage, residents of South Baltimore held a rally late last year to call for stronger restrictions, saying proposed limits from the MDE did not go far enough.

“My children can’t go outside to play,” Laqeisha Greene said, “because of these emissions that are being produced by BRESCO.”

Greene said her children have asthma and have been hospitalized for it three times over the last year and a half. Baltimore’s asthma rate is three times the national average.

City Councilman Edward Reisinger, the bill’s sponsor, told Baltimore Fishbowl after it passed that his constituents in the 10th District have been complaining about the effects of the poor air quality for years.

“It’s a great victory for the citizens of Baltimore,” he said, adding, “This is the right thing to do.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the bill in March.

In the lawsuit, the companies said they have gone through all the proper protocols to meet state and federal guidelines that ensure the safety of the public, and that the restrictions imposed by Baltimore would be the harshest in the U.S.

“These air pollution laws and regulations, adopted only after EPA and MDE considered thousands of pages of detailed comments from the public, and after voluminous scientific and technical review, are protective of the public health by a significant and scientifically established margin of safety,” they said.

Additionally, they allege that continuous monitoring and daily reporting of emissions is “technically infeasible,” saying “EPA-approved methods for direct monitoring of many of these constituents do not exist.”

Citing quotes from Reisinger in a pubic radio interview, the companies allege the city made “a targeted attempt to shut down two specific facilities, ignoring all other stationary and mobile sources of air emissions in the City.”

Reisinger’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

The BRESCO incinerator burns some 700,000 tons of trash from the city–about 75 percent of Baltimore’s waste–and several surrounding jurisdictions, producing steam that is then sold to heat and cool buildings in downtown.

The Curtis Bay facility is the only hospital, medical and infectious waste incinerator in the state, according to the lawsuit, and sits in a part of the city zoned for heavy industry.

It’s still not known where the city’s trash will go if the Baltimore Clean Air Act remains in place. The Department of Public Works estimates it would cost the city $13 million more per year to expand the Hawkins Point landfill, which is currently projected to reach capacity by 2026, and even more to truck the waste to landfills in surrounding counties.

Earlier this year, DPW set out to develop a long-term waste management plan, called Less Waste, Better Baltimore.

City Solicitor Andre Davis said his office had already anticipated the suit, and will respond in court.

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore Business Journal, b and others. Prior to joining Baltimore Fishbowl, he was an editor at City Paper from 2012 to 2017. He can be reached at [email protected]
Brandon Weigel


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