Today, advocates in Baltimore City and across the state are calling on Governor Moore and the Maryland Department of the Environment to revise the draft Climate Pathway plan to reflect the needs of communities on the frontline of trash incineration and biogas and biomass development in Maryland.
In June, the Maryland Department of the Environment released a draft report titled Maryland’s Climate Pathway. It presents policy recommendations to meet Maryland’s climate goals of 60% emissions reductions by 2031 and net-zero emissions by 2045, as required by the Climate Solutions Now Act passed by the state legislature in 2022. The report is based on climate modeling by the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland that predicts how much emissions will be reduced by existing policies Maryland has passed, then recommends additional policies to further reduce emissions. Since the report’s release, the Maryland Department of the Environment has been collecting public comment, including through a listening session to be held tonight (Tuesday 9/12, 6PM) at Morgan State University.
In its Waste Management section, the draft Climate Pathway report omits significant opportunities to reduce emissions in the solid waste sector through Zero Waste policies such as “reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost:” mutually-reinforcing solid waste strategies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve public health, and achieve economic and environmental resiliency benefits. The draft Climate Pathway report does not recommend any specific additional policies to reduce emissions in the solid waste sector beyond what Maryland has already passed, even though analyses show that “introducing better waste management policies such as waste separation, recycling, and composting could cut total emissions from the waste sector by 84%.” Separate collection and composting of organic waste alone “can reduce methane emissions from landfills by 62%, even with moderate ambition.” The draft Climate Pathway report leaves significant potential to reduce emissions on the table by missing the opportunity to recommend that Maryland end trash incineration, even though the report’s own modeling proves that Maryland’s two incinerators produce an outsized proportion of Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector. Incineration is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions: each ton of plastic burned results in the release of 1.43 tons of CO2, and a new peer-reviewed report found that incinerators emit more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity produced than any other power source.
“The modeling in the draft Climate Pathway report demonstrates how much more potential there is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the solid waste sector through Zero Waste policies, but the report falls short of actually recommending policies to accomplish it,” said Jennifer Kunze, Maryland Organizing Director at Clean Water Action. “The final report and the Department of the Environment’s greenhouse gas reduction plan must recommend an end to trash incineration and a commitment to enacting Zero Waste policies to reduce and divert waste away from landfills and incinerators toward composting, recycling, and reuse. These policies will also sequester carbon in the ground, reduce local air pollution, and create good green jobs throughout Maryland.”
“Trash incineration is the dirtiest way to deal with our solid waste: bad for the climate and bad for our communities,” said Shashawnda Campbell, Environmental Justice Coordinator with the South Baltimore Community Land Trust. “For decades residents have been fighting against Baltimore’s #1 air polluter, the BRESCO trash burning incinerator. We feel its impacts ourselves, and if that isn’t enough, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation did a study that found that the BRESCO incinerator alone causes 55 million dollars a year in health damages. Mayor Scott has already pledged that the City’s current contract with the incinerator will be its last, so there is no reason not to recommend in the Climate Pathway report that emissions from trash incineration in Maryland end long before 2045.”
In its Electricity Sector section, the draft Climate Pathway report recommends that Maryland introduce two new sources of energy onto its grid in the 2030s that pose significant environmental justice concerns: biogas and biomass.
Discussion of inviting “natural gas with CSS” into Maryland in this proposal has troubling connections with proposals to produce methane (natural gas) at large scale from anaerobic digestion of agricultural wastes that have been opposed by environmental justice and community groups on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Much like trash incineration, such anaerobic digestion facilities are sometimes touted as a solution to problems posed by waste; but they do not solve nutrient runoff problems from agricultural wastes, and the methane produced by them is just as potent a greenhouse gas as methane fracked from the ground. Such facilities have been staunchly opposed by community and environmental justice organizations, and a similar facility in Delaware is currently the subject of a Civil Rights Act Title VI complaint.
Biomass includes the burning of wood for energy and heat. When burned, wood emits 206.74 pounds of CO2 per one million BTU, comparable only to coal. To that we must add the emissions from logging, transport, soil-c loss,and worst of all, pellet manufacturing plants which are known for regularly violating the Clean Air Act, compounding environmental injustices. A recent Harvard School of Public Health Study showed that biomass and wood have the fastest-growing share of early deaths in the major energy-consuming sectors because - woody biomass for energy or heat pollutes more than coal. Advocates are adamant that we not allow the woody biomass for energy industry to settle in Maryland as it would sacrifice mature forest ecosystems, the most effective tool for carbon sequestration and storage. We must block the industry from logging and burning our forest for fuel, whether in Maryland or for export, as we have witnessed across the Southeast.
“Digester facilities are selling a false solution to communities that have been harmed by the industry’s waste for far too long,” said Maria Payan of Sentinels of Eastern Shore Health. “These facilities are not profitable without subsidies, incentives, and continuous waste streams, and they do not deserve to be promoted in Maryland’s Climate Pathway. To support factory farm methane gas is also supporting the construction of massive pipelines, refineries and digesters that are crossing wetlands, streams and crossing through vulnerable communities that are already considered overburdened.”
“Turning factory farm waste into methane gas cannot play any role in Maryland’s clean energy future,” said Food & Watch organizer Jomar Lloyd. “Factory farm biogas makes it profitable to create more factory farm animal waste, which poses a direct threat to our water sources, including the Chesapeake Bay. And building biogas facilities will require new gas pipelines or tanker trucks loaded with methane gas. Maryland must focus on building new sources of renewable energy like wind and solar, and reject any efforts to re-brand factory farm biogas as clean power.”
“To fight climate change, we need to stop the emissions that cause it and increase the capacity of effective carbon sinks” said Sonia Demiray, founder of the Climate Communications Coalition. “Retaining dirty fuel sources for energy such as the combustion of trash, farm waste, and wood in Maryland’s Climate Pathway, undermines the first part; including woody biomass for energy, which requires logging our forests, sacrifices the second.”