Students Present to Baltimore City School Board About Nations’ Largest Incinerator

On Tuesday, May 27, students, parents, and teachers from across Baltimore presented to the Baltimore City School Board on a proposal to build the nation’s largest incinerator in South Baltimore. It was a powerful event. Thank you to everyone who made it out!

For the past two years, students from our Free Your Voice Human Rights Committee at Ben Franklin High School, in Curtis Bay, have been researching the plan to construct the incinerator less than a mile from their school. Through their research they learned that in 2011 Baltimore City Schools, together with 21 other public entities in Maryland, signed a contract to purchase energy from the incinerator.

At the May 27 meeting, the students asked the School Board to begin a process to withdraw Baltimore City Schools from the contract. As a first step in this process, they invited school board members to join them on a tour of their neighborhood. The students also showed one of several videos (below) they have produced on the issue and talked about the positive alternatives to the incineration project.

“Instead of trash incinerators we hope that Curtis Bay and communities like it will be the destination for development that puts our needs first,” says Destiny Watford, a long-time community resident and a member of Free Your Voice. “We would love to see truly green solar energy, recycling and composting – development that would bring good jobs without adding to our health problems.”

At the school board meeting, the students presented thousands of handmade paper sunflowers (see our Flickr photo album below). Each of the sunflowers was signed and included a personal comment from individuals across the state calling for an end to the incinerator. Students also presented school board members with a report card on the incinerator, which they have developed for the past two years. The report cards evaluate the project and provide positive alternatives according to five basic Fair Development principles, which they believe should be at the root of every development project: Equity, Transparency, Participation, Universality, and Accountability.

In the lead-up to the School Board meeting, the students have been reaching out to thousands of students, parents, and teachers from across the city by giving classroom presentations to highlight their research on the incinerator. They have written a song about their struggle against the incinerator and their search for positive alternatives. Last December, they organized a march of over a hundred people from Ben Franklin High School to the site of the proposed incinerator less than a mile away.

Baltimore City Schools agreed to purchase energy from the incinerator through the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee—a group representing 22 entities in Maryland, including Howard County, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Museum, the city of Annapolis, and Baltimore City. These contracts were signed in 2011, the same year Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that designated Waste-to-Energy incineration as Tier 1 renewable energy. The new standard put incineration in the same category as solar, wind, and other renewable energy.

If built the Energy Answers incinerator would be the largest of its kind in the nation, producing more pollutants per hour of energy produced than the largest coal plants in Maryland. The incinerator has been permitted to emit 240 pounds of mercury and 1000 pounds of lead per year, as well as other highly toxic pollutants. According to a recent MIT study, Baltimore already leads the nation in per capita air pollution-related deaths.

“We know that our lives matter just as much as anyone else’s,” says Watford. “We know that we have a right to a safe and clean environment and that our lives should not be limited by asthma or cancer just because of where we were born.”

Members of the school board accepted the students invitation to visit their neighborhood. We will keep you updated with more information as it becomes available.

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