Mayor Catherine Pugh on Wednesday committed to signing into law a bill that would place stricter emissions restrictions on the BRESCO incinerator in South Baltimore.
The legislation, passed unanimously Monday by the Baltimore City Council, would effectively close the incinerator, either in 2020 when the law comes into effect or 2022 when limits placed on the facility become more stringent and the operator’s contract with the city runs out.
At a press conference, Pugh conceded she asked council members to expand the window for closing the building, but said ultimately “we have to be concerned about the health and well-being of the citizens of Baltimore.”
Operated by the New Hampshire company Wheelabrator, the incinerator burns 700,000 tons of waste annually, including some brought in from counties surrounding the city. Steam created from the process heats and cools downtown buildings, but the plant also produces harmful pollutants that have led to higher rates of respiratory diseases. According to EPA figures, Curtis Bay has some of the most polluted air in the country.
Jim Connolly, Wheelabrator’s vice president of environmental, health and safety, warned the new limits would result in more trucks transporting “the city’s waste to landfills with limited capacity.” The Department of Public Works has said the landfill in Hawkins Point, the largest one in Baltimore, is about seven years from reaching capacity.
What will happen with Baltimore’s waste in the future remains unclear. Pugh said Wednesday that the city could expand the landfill or look to grow its successful composting program. The solution might be years down the road.
“There are other technologies that are being prepared,” she said. “Some of them won’t be ready in time for this, but we will have to figure it out.”
Pugh said she is working with DPW and the Finance Department to determine the cost of handling the city’s waste in the future.
For its part, DPW has launched a study for developing a long-term waste management plan.
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