Column: A ‘Clean Energy’ Bill Shouldn’t Include Trash Burning

To the Valley News
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

New Hampshire legislators will decide today whether to saddle Eversource and Unitil ratepayers with a multimillion-dollar subsidy for a major source of pollution in the Concord area, to be paid on their monthly electric bill.

In May, Senate Bill 365 passed the Legislature in a flurry of lobbying and deal-making. The bill sought to approve massive subsidies for seven wood- and waste-combustion facilities that generate electricity.

Buried in the bill, and so far largely ignored by the media and politicians, is an $8.1 million subsidy for the aging Wheelabrator trash incinerator in Concord.

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill on June 19. More lobbying ensued, and a summer of threats and misinformation sowed fear in rural communities across New Hampshire and among workers in the logging and forest products industry.

Meanwhile, SB365 would require Eversource and Unitil customers to provide a multimillion-dollar bailout to the owners of New Hampshire’s wood- and waste-burning facilities. For the rest of us, it’s smoke and ashes and up to $68 million worth of lost opportunity.

Legislators should oppose SB365 and sustain the governor’s veto. Here’s why:

■ The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has stated that the Wheelabrator incinerator in Concord is a major source of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. (Wheelabrator sold its Claremont waste-to-energy incinerator in December and the facility’s permit to burn trash was terminated in May.)

■ A Wheelabrator report for 2017 shows that more than 80 pounds of lead were emitted into the air over Concord from just one of the incinerator boilers. Health officials measure lead toxicity in micrograms (one-millionth of a gram). Eighty pounds of airborne lead is totally unacceptable.

■ No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Hampshire’s 2015 guidelines for childhood lead poisoning state that a municipal waste incinerator creates a risk of lead exposure for children in the surrounding community.

■ Lead, cadmium, mercury and other toxic elements do not biodegrade but remain a threat forever. The heavy metals the Concord incinerator has emitted over nearly 30 years continue to accumulate in our environment and in our bodies. In spite of issuing permits to Wheelabrator, DES has acknowledged that cumulative toxic effects are essentially impossible to evaluate given the limits of today’s science.

■ Waste incineration pollutes and destroys resources. Conservation, reuse, recycling and composting can properly handle most of the materials that municipalities manage through private contracts or public works departments. Jeffrey Morris, an economist and environmental consultant with Sound Resource Management Group Inc. in Olympia, Wash., states that recycling consumes less energy and imposes lower environmental burdens than sending recyclable materials to a landfill or incinerator, even after accounting for energy that may be recovered from waste materials at either type of facility.

Including Wheelabrator in SB365 tells the public that burning trash is good for the environment.

It is not.

Ratepayers should not be on the hook for $8.1 million to prop up a major source of pollution in the Merrimack Valley.

Legislators should sustain the governor’s veto and return next legislative session with a clean energy bill that protects ratepayers and the environment and does not include Wheelabrator.

John Tuthill is a former state representative who served on the Environment and Agriculture Committee. He lives in Acworth. Katie Lajoie is a registered nurse from Charlestown. Working on Waste is a citizen initiative that promotes safe alternatives to waste incineration.