The Clean Water Blog

Subsidizing BRESCO from Baltimore County

On Thursday Feb., 20 and Tuesday Feb., 25, I was able to attend and and testify for introductions of House Bill 438 and Senate Bill 560 into their respective committees (Economic Matters in the House, and Finance for the Senate). Both of these bills would eliminate incineration as a source of energy in the Maryland renewable portfolio standard, therefore taking away the renewable energy subsidies they recieve. If these subsidies were to be taken away, incinerators could feasibly survive, but the subsidization would instead go to more deserving entities. Although this legislation seemed to get a more favorable reception in the House than in the Senate, both hearings seemed to go relatively well. 

Testification was well thought out for both bill introductions, and highlighted several issues with incineration, including inefficiency, pollution, health risks, and their retention of waste in the form of ash. Another important aspect of testimony was a reframing of the bill’s intention when industry or elected officials brought up distractions: that this bill removes incineration from the renewable portfolio standard, which does not mean that it closes them. Both Covanta, and Wheelabrator, the companies that run incinerators in Maryland, in Montgomery County and Baltimore City respectively, were only able to testify upon the closure of incinerators, and potential job loss to appeal to economic interests. Other than vague statements, they could say nothing about the real economic impact of their facilities losing these subsidies, which they only started to receive in 2011.

The only waste management method they referenced as a comparison to incineration and its cleanliness was traditional landfilling. The parameter for cleanliness used was methane emissions, completely ignoring local air quality impacts. Some legislators such as Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, in the Economic Matters Committee,  took up the cause and debunked testifiers for incinerators as they spoke, both for Covanta and Wheelabrator. One notable quote from Charkoudian said to a representative of Wheelabrator after he said his company would use subsidies to improve incinerator facilities was “Don't you see the irony in using clean energy subsidies, to meet the requirements of being a clean energy source?” to which he replied with an absurd “No. No I don’t.”

Personally, as a Baltimore County high school student and resident, I believe that these incinerators should stop receiving subsidies not only on the basis that Wheelabrator is one of the largest point polluters in Baltimore, but because it directly costs my county money that could otherwise be allocated. In 2019, Wheelabrator sued Baltimore County for 32 million dollars because the county delivered less than the contractually mandated amount of trash to the facility (215,000 tons), after the county had asked for a reduced price per ton of trash fee. Wheelabrator denied the reduction in price. 

Thus, we see the facility costing in two ways, a steep price per ton cost, and unnecessary legal bills. Simply put, the Wheelabrator is a bad partner for my county. A facility that penalizes a county for trying to do the right thing in moving towards more responsible waste management strategies shouldn’t continue to be freely subsidized.

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You can watch video of the public hearings for yourself in the House and the Senate!

Do you agree that burning trash is NOT clean energy? Click here to tell your representatives.