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Mon Dec 31, 2018, 02:29 AM

Waste of Energy

Burning garbage? Chicken poop? Your state could be getting renewable energy from nasty sources.

Drive down Interstate 95 through Baltimore and you can’t miss the Wheelabrator trash incinerator, its smokestack emblazoned with the city’s name. The Charm City’s single largest source of industrial air pollution churns out well over 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

In 2017, those emissions were equivalent to what’s given off by more than 130,000 cars driven for a year. It is also one of Maryland’s major sources of nitrogen oxides — a principal component of smog. One analysis estimates the facility’s air pollution kills an estimated 5.5 people per year.

James Alston is a resident of the South Baltimore neighborhood of Westport. He resides roughly five blocks from the incinerator in a home where his family has lived since 1967. From his front porch, the smokestack is clearly visible. On bad days, he says, a rancid overpowering odor wafts over from the facility to his community. When he learned how much pollution comes from the Wheelabrator site — and its potential health impacts — he thought of neighbors who had died. Could they have lived longer lives if it weren’t for the facility?

“They’re here, and they pollute, and from what I gather they don’t care,” Alston says. He wants the facility out of the majority-black community. “It’s environmental racial injustice as I see it,” he adds.

In the eyes of the state though, the energy Wheelabrator creates from burning as much as 2,250 tons of trash each day is considered renewable. Thus, the company gets subsidies — an estimated $3.4 million in 2015 — from utility companies and ratepayers as a result of the state’s renewable energy policy.

In a statement to Grist, Wheelabrator says the facility “adheres and exceeds strict federal and state air regulations established by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment.”

Trash incineration isn’t the only polluting industry that Maryland considers a renewable energy source. Poultry litter incineration and paper mill-waste burning are also lumped in alongside wind and solar energy, according to the state’s plan.

Read more: https://grist.org/article/renewable-energy-portfolio-standards-maryland-garbage-incineration/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly&utm_content=the-stinkiest-dirtiest-nastiest-renewable-energy-you-never-heard-of%3Futm_medium%3Demail

More than 30 states categorize garbage incineration as a type of renewable energy. Grist / AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster, File

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