Free Your Voice youth leaders have presented on their environmental justice and human rights organizing to thousands of people across the region. The following questions emerged from a series of presentations and discussions to students at Benjamin Franklin High School in Curtis Bay (less than a mile away from the proposed incinerator). Students wrote questions down which Free Your Voice then gathered and reflected upon and responded to as a group.
The incinerator would be less than a mile away from Ben Franklin High School and Curtis Bay elementary. It would be on Patapsco Ave in Fairfield (which used to be a community where people lived, worked and played).
The incinerator would pollute the air with 240 lbs of mercury and 1000 lbs of lead (that’s more lead than Maryland’s largest coal fired power plants). It would release other toxic pollutants like dioxins and NOx and fine particulates. These pollutants are linked to some of the health problems that Curtis Bay is already suffering from like lung cancer, heart disease, and lower respiratory disease. We know that the pollutants that would come from the incinerator do have very negative consequences for our health and we know that Curtis Bay already has a lot of these pollutants.
In 2013, Free Your Voice wrote a letter to the Baltimore City Health Department requesting a health impact assessment (HIA) to help us answer this question in more detail. Unfortunately, the department declined the request and no HIA has been conducted to ask basic health related questions about the plan to build the nations' largest trash burning incinerator less than a mile from schools.
There are a lot of polluting developments around the community - a lot of them are in Fairfield (where the incinerator is proposed). There is the largest medical waste incinerator, Grace Chemical, and many other polluting industries. We mapped out 18 facilities surrounding the community that have violated the Federal Clean Air Act.
Great question. We know that the incinerator is not the only case where community members are effectively left out of major decisions. Shutting down rec centers and fire stations also happened throughout the city without a lot of community awareness before decisions were made. This reflects a failed development approach that often dictates to communities rather than working with them as respected partners in making critical decisions. In the case of the incinerator, we know that very few meetings were held and that they were scheduled at inconvenient times. We don’t know of any effort made before decisions about the project were made to reach out directly to community members (through door to door outreach, mailings, calls, etc…).
Energy Answers made two main arguments to get around the MD state law that prohibits construction of an incinerator less than a mile from a school. One argument was that applying the law to the incinerator would set the project timeline back and cost the project hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money (which they did not receive). Their other argument was that the incinerator produces electricity and should be regulated as a power plant rather than as an incinerator - therefore the MD state law should not be applied. Maryland Department of Environment was initially opposed to this argument but eventually withdrew opposition. We continue to be disappointed and frustrated by this decision.
Having said all this, our simple answer would be that Energy Answer’s level of influence was enough to evade the law. Energy Answers invested a great deal of resources to navigate the political and legal waters to see the project through.
There are legislative efforts that we have participated in to strengthen the law.
Why are they putting it so close (to our school)? Why do you want to build one so close to the school?
This remains one of the biggest questions we have. One answer is that this incinerator fits into a pattern of environmental injustice that we see across the country and the world in which polluting developments are more likely to be built in low income minority communities. We believe that this applies strongly in our case. The area they want to build the incinerator is now zoned industrial but once was a community for people to live, play, work and go to school.
Why don’t they let people vote if they want the public institutions to buy energy from the incinerator or not?
This is a great question. We have learned that not a lot of people know anything about the way these purchasing decisions are made for our public institutions (including people within the institutions). We are interested in ways to make these critical decision reflect values we care about like equity (fairness), universality (helps everyone), participation (includes us - like you asked - why don’t we have a say?) , transparency (the process is open and clear) and accountability (promises are kept).
This is a much larger question about our democracy and our democratic institutions functioning as they should/could. There are many answers because it is a deep and central question. We have observed that the voice of Energy Answers has been heard much more loudly and clearly than that of the community. We think it’s important for everyone to think hard about this question - reflect on what this observation means and begin to organize together towards situation where our voices are not only heard but are a key part of making decisions.
We asked the same question early on after learned about the incinerator plan. We assumed that there was some kind of law or protection that would limit the amount of pollution any particular community can be exposed to. We thought this was common sense and were surprised to learn that no such protection exists. We learned that there is no requirement to look at how the incinerator will add on to the pollution that a community like Curtis Bay is already exposed to. We are involved in supporting efforts (including legislation) that would change this and require that a the cummulative impacts of pollution are examined. To sum it up though...we don’t see adequate protections to stop certain communities (like Curtis Bay) from being dumped on again and again with more and more pollution.
Both the city and some of the companies surrounding people’s homes in Fairfield and Wagners point were offered money to leave their homes. We are trying to learn more about how all this happens...but yes, efforts were made to “buy out” people as they were forced to leave the community.
The incinerator would burn 4,000 tons of trash including tires, metals and plastics every day.
Why are they still trying to build it?
We believe that we will help stop the incinerator - so our answer is that it will not be built. The incinerator was supposed to have already been built. The company has missed deadlines and is currently projecting that they will be finished sometime in 2017.
Energy Answers is a business so their goal is to create an incinerator that will help them make a profit.
Good question, we asked ourselves this a lot as well. Energy Answers says that the key to the project is the energy sales (meaning they need to find customers to buy the energy they will produce in order to attract investors). Economics has a lot do with it. Also, we have done a good job raising awareness and increasing public pressure (which helps convince investors to stay away from the project).
Orignally, they were supposed to start building in 2010. The company missed their deadline. They got an extension to Aug 6th 2013. The company didn’t start construction for real but did put up a few pilings. The company now says that they won’t be finished until 2016 or 2017 even though they are supposed to start producing energy for by 2015.
This would be the nations’s largest incinerator. It would burn 4,000 tons of trash every day. To put this in perspective - the incinerator on Russel St. burns around 2000 tons per day so this new one would be around 2x as big.
Overall, the number of operating incinerators in the U.S. has declined. At the turn of the century, there were 118 trash incinerators in the U.S. In 1991, there were 188. Now, there are 85.
A company called Energy Answers. The company is based in Albany New York. The company is also trying to build an incinerator in Puerto Rico that is facing opposition.
The company claims this will be a good project. We believe the land could be used for something truly positive like a solar panel farm to generate energy without creating massive amounts of pollution. We don’t believe that Energy Answers could do this because they are committed to building this incinerator.
There is an incinerator on Russel St. next to the new casino. This incinerator burns around 2000 tons of waste per day - so the EA incinerator would be nearly twice as big. There is also the nation’s largest medical waste incinerator near curtis bay.
Yes! We are excited because there are positive alternatives to the incinerator. The term for the solutions is called Zero Waste and includes reducing the amount of waste we produce, and then compositing and recycling whenever possible. We have learned that 90% of what is burned in incinerators could be recycled or composted. We have also learned that San Francisco, after years of effort, have managed to almost completely eliminate waste from being landfilled or incinerated.
Good question! We have asked ourselves this a lot along the way. We know that no new incinerator has been built in the US since 1997. We also know that many incinerators are being shut down. Companies that build incinerators are trying to earn money though and so they continue to propose them.
The company chose to try to build the incinerator less than a mile from the community. They are not looking for another site. We conclude that incinerators, no matter where they are built, are the wrong answer to dealing with waste.
See above...incinerators are the wrong solution to dealing with waste. They pollute and waste materials that could be recycled or composted. Also, incinerators create an incentive for producing more and more waste when we desperately need to start reducing and conserving.
The project manager for the incinerator said, “the key to this is going to be the energy sales”. This is one area we agree with Energy Answers! We believe that if the Baltimore City Public Schools and other public institutions opt out of their energy contracts with the incinerator that we will take a big step towards stopping it.
The Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee (or BRCPC or “Brick Pack”) is a group of local-government entities—Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford, and Carroll counties, as well as their respective public-school systems, along with the City of Annapolis— as well as the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery - organized under the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to make purchases together to get better deals on goods and services. The committee purchases everything from electricity (e.g. the incinerator) to office furniture.
We first learned about the issue in 2011 by reading an article in the Baltimore Brew (a local newspaper).
Not by the end of 2014 but we think we can get the Baltimore City Public Schools and other public institutions to opt out by April of 2015.
It’s everyone’s choice to make about whether to care or not. We care because we believe we have human rights and this is a clear example of our rights being violated. Specifically, this incinerator threatens our right to breathe clean air and live in a healthy community. Do you think that it’s fair for someone’s life to be cut short because of where you are born? You should also care because this is an opportunity to see how you can actually go from “caring” about something to organizing to make a change.
There are around 10 core members in Free Your Voice that do the daily organizing work. We have built a network of people across the state and beyond who are also committed to the effort that includes 100s of people.
Yes! Absolutely! We are raising awareness about the issue because we believe that everyone can get involved and contribute to the fight to stop the incinerator. We believe that we can also develop a democratic process to find positive Fair Development alternatives to the problems we’ve exposed.
No, the entire Baltimore City Public School system along with others like the Howard County schools, are in contracts with the incinerator. To be clear, the School Systems are a part of something called the BRCPC which makes purchasing decisions for/with groups like the schools. The schools on their own did not go out and approach the incinerator to buy energy. We mention this for 2 reasons, one it gives us confidence that the schools and other institutions are n but also it tells us that decisions like this one are not as transparent or accountable as we believe they should be.
We are organizing. This means we are out in the community going door to door to keep people updated on the information we’ve learned as well as listening to community member’s concerns. We also meet with other groups in the community (like St. Paul’s church and the Brooklyn Community Association) and share/listen. We also organize larger events
We have found that the City Schools knew very little about the incinerator when the contract was signed. This is not a good thing but it means that it is our job to educate the board members about the issue (explain why it is bad AND what the positive alternatives are) and encourage them to choose to opt out of their contract with the incinerator.
When people were interviewed how many people said they wanted the incinerator vs those who didn’t want it vs those who didn’t care?
We have talked to 100s of community members and early on almost no one had ever heard about the incinerator. We’d say out of 10 people only one or two had ever heard of it. Of those small number of people who knew about it, most had serious concerns about the incinerator. Of the majority who hadn’t heard of it - most had very serious concerns about how it would impact their health. Many older community members remarked, “What do you expect, Curtis Bay is a dumping ground”
Good question, why aren’t you in the pictures! This issue belongs to all of us so we all should find a way for our voices to be heard!!
Very deep question. We believe that both are related and we are interested in building our own power as well as the number of people who are involved. We have been able to accomplish a lot with a dedicated group of emerging leaders.
Excellent question. Remember that we mentioned that in 2011 trash incineration was upgraded and is now considered Tier 1 renewable energy? And remember that the company donated a lot of money to help make this happen in Maryland? Well they did all that work for a reason. Public institutions need to buy energy and they would prefer to support renewable sources if possible. Well, trash incineration can now be presented as renewable so when groups like the schools buy it - it can also be said that they are supporting something green. Having said all that - very few people were aware that the schools or other entities are buying energy from the incinerator.
One of the first things we did after we learned about the incinerator project was to realize that we needed to learn a lot in order to understand what was going on. We reached out to Energy Answers, the Baltimore City Health Dept. and lots of groups like the Environmental Integrity Project who studied the issue. We never received a response to our email to Energy Answers that we sent years ago.