Saturday, December 15, 2018

City Council, December 17th - Garbage and the Incinerator

Council meets on Monday for two items, one to ratify the decision on Costco, the other a work session on garbage, recycling, and our incinerator.

We just dedicated a statue to recycling bottles and cans
(Some thoughts here and the City's photos from the dedication)
About the garbage, an article posted earlier this week to CityLab, and circulated here on social media was of interest. Titled, "Why Communities Across America Are Pushing to Close Waste Incinerators," it was a direct discussion of many of the issues we're grappling with here.

But it was also ambiguous in important ways:
A 2016 EPA study found that WTE incinerators produced fewer greenhouse gas emissions than landfills, America’s third-largest emitters of methane. (Methane is 28 to 36 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.) Paul Gilman, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer of the major waste-to-energy incineration company Covanta, told Scientific American in 2011 that every ton of incinerated waste prevents another ton of greenhouse gas emissions.

Incinerators’ opponents counter that the real choice isn’t between landfills and incineration—it’s between incineration and a radically different approach centered on reducing waste in the first place; upping recycling, composting, and reuse rates; and investing in solar and wind power. They take particular issue with the notion that waste-to-energy incineration is clean and safe for area residents.
Critics of the incinerator have pointed to the carbon it pollutes, and suggest landfilling our garbage would generate much less carbon.

From a Salem Weekly article last year on the DEQ's list of top greenhouse gas polluters in 2016
the Coffin Butte landfill, operated by Valley Landfills, Inc., also makes the DEQ list at #77, but it only emitted 28,366 tons of GHG pollution in 2016, about one/sixth the pollution emitted by the Covanta Marion incinerator [which was # 18].
And more recently they wrote
[G]arbage incinerators like Covanta/Marion are more polluting than coal plants. As the Energy Justice Network has pointed out: “To make the same amount of energy as a coal power plant, trash incinerators release 28 times as much dioxin than coal, 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide (CO2), twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides (NOx), 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 70% more sulfur dioxides.”
But they may not have accounted for the methane from a landfill. In the comparison with Coffin Butte, we don't know how much pollution it would have emitted if our garbage went there instead of the incinerator.

The second paragraph in the CityLab piece gets at the real issue: We buy too much stuff, with too much packaging, and throw away too much stuff.

We are back at "The Story of Stuff.

She spoke here in 2014
One of the underrated attributes of walking, biking, and busing, is that all are helpful with "stuff management." When you shop, you have to ask yourself if you have room for that extra thing; when you commute, you have to pare down to the essential stuff. Getting out of the car poses the question:  Can you carry it? and Do you need it? It's a way to be more disciplined about stuff. (And it's also one of the limits that's not actually talked about much: It's an implied critique of our consumer capitalism, and Capital mobilizes to marginalize those who might think it wise to make do with less stuff.)

A basket only carries so much stuff
As for the Costco decision, the City says in conclusion:
Council finds that the applicant has not demonstrated that the removal of significant trees is necessary in connection with construction of the proposed commercial facility, therefore, removal of significant trees, as provided in SRC 808.020(a)(2)(L), is not allowed as proposed by the applicant. Further, Council finds that the representations made by the applicant in 2006/2007 that the proposed development would be a community shopping center, and not a regional shopping center were relied on by the City when it accepted the applicant’s “vicinity” for purposes of reviewing the proposed comprehensive plan change to commercial. The current proposal will have a regional market area and is therefore inconsistent with the representations made by the applicant in 2006/2007, and inconsistent with the comprehensive plan change decision.
As I have scanned the arguments, not following them closely, the tree argument has seemed the most secure. The argument about the terms of the 2006/2007 decision seems more loose, and it will be interesting to see how that turns out if the decision is appealed to LUBA. The City did post additional comments on that 2006/2007 decision in the "written testimony recieved at meeting" update to the Council agenda. The "legislative intent" for that decision does seem to weigh against a big box store like a Costco. At the same time, it's not clear how binding that is; any intent may be more advisory than mandatory, and the standards may not be in SRC explicitly enough.

Finally, if you aren't following Councilor Andersen's informal time sheets, he's logging the actual amount of time his City Council activities occupy. Even if you think Council should remain all-volunteer, the time burden to be fully informed is very large, and it deserves more visibility. (See posts here, here, and here.)

Update, August 15th, 2019

LUBA published their decision this week, and is gratifying that in a general way, they agree with the thoughts here, finding more force and generally supporting the City for the tree argument, and finding weakness and problem in the City's interpretation of the 2007 decision.

I'm not sure that drilling into more detail is useful or interesting. Maybe the LUBA decision will get appealed, but at present it will be remanded to the City for reconsideration on a couple of points. Costco and the developer have separately also brought a lawsuit against the City. They also claim the $3 million+ in road work they've done automatically qualifies the development proposal in key ways and removes the prospect of Council oversight or denial. (Hopefully this isn't too much of a simplification! Maybe as others weigh in there will be more to say in a separate post.)


Susann Kaltwasser said...

So, I have been studying the Covanta incinerator for over 25 years. I have participated in 3 two-year long studies with the League of Women Voters of Marion/Polk counties. During the last study in 2009-2010 we not only interviewed Covanta, Marion county and Garden staff, we interviewed the three Marion County Commissioners. Our group talks with the staff at DEQ extensively to make sure that we understand the data and what is actually happening from their view as the regulators of the incinerator. We also worked with Willamette University and held 4 community workshops with them that were broadcast by CCTV.

During that process I have learned so much more than could ever be put into a response here. But I would like to say that the EPA statement on comparing incinerators to landfills, is not about our local conditions. The Covanta incinerator is almost 30 year old technology. Coffin Butte to which we compare GHG emissions is a state of the art landfill that captures most of the methane and burns it to create electricity for Corvallis.

I will continue.....

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Continued from above....

We data that we use in our statements quoted by Salem Weekly are from the actual data submitted by Covanta and Coffin Butte to the Oregon EPA. This is not a theoretical statement. It is a fact based on their required reporting.

If anyone wants to know mine or others in a working group that has members of, LWV, and Physicians for Social Responsibility, sources of information, please contact me directly. Our goal is to never put into testimony anything that cannot be backed up by verifiable fact that we get either from DEQ, EPA, Marion County or Covanta.

The discussion on Monday between the City and the County is about far more than which is better way to dispose of our garbage. Yes GHG is a key part of a good Climate Action Plan which I hope Salem will adopt soon. But it is also about costs.

The incinerator is aging. If we continue to use it, the County has learned that they will need to either make significant repairs within the next decade, or build a whole new plant. Covanta does not pay for their incinerators. The customers pay for it in the garbage fees. The current bond for the existing incinerator was paid off a few years ago, but our rates did not go down. This is because instead of saving the revenue from the incinerator the County seems to have chosen to spend it. They seldom say what they spend it on but it goes into their General Fund. But they say there are no capital improvement funds to replace the incinerator, so that means customers will need to pay higher garbage rates to cover that cost.

An alternative to incineration is Coffin Butte because Marion County already has a contract with them.

Another alternative is to increase our recycling and recovery rate Actually that fact that Marion county must increase their recycling rates also has to do with meeting State legislated mandates by 2025. More recycling will mean more programs, more education, and probably more sorting equipment, i.e. more money.

People are now upset about the two rate increases in one year, will they accept more and more increases?

Coffin Butte is now taking in part of Salem's garbage because the incinerator is too full some days. It is cheaper to send it there than the incinerator as well. Should Salem change where we sent out garbage? If so, would we need to repeal the law that the Legislature passed requiring Salem to send our garbage only to Marion County?

Should we be doing more to reduce our waste generation? Absolutely! We all must do a better job. There are several things being suggested that might help, including better education of the consumers.

A key point that I made in my testimony during the City Council hearing on the last garbage fee increase was about some of these facts. I said that since Salem is the largest supplier of garbage in Marion County, it made sense to me that the City should be engaged in the decision making process that is being done at the Country level. The Council seemed to agree with me, and asked for the joint work session.

I hope that this is just the beginning of some very good discussion between the two parties, as well as in our community.

If anyone wants more detailed information, I have sent a lot of documents to some of the Council and can send it along via e-mail to others.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Why is it that I only see my grammar errors after I post?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Nah, online discourse only requires a certain level of spelling and grammar; the occasional lapse is trivial! Don't sweat it!)

Here's the Coffin Butte analysis that's missing.

The interesting comparison is not current Coffin Butte vs. Incinerator. The comparison should be GHG emissions from (current Coffin Butte + new Marion County garbage) vs. current Incinerator.

If we shifted all of Marion County's garbage to Coffin Butte, how many places in the DEQ list would it rise? From #77 to what? And does the DEQ list weigh methane appropriately for its greater effect than CO2, or does it just count tons of emissions?

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I am not privy to speculation on what the GHG emission would be from some future activity at Coffin Butte if they were to send all our garbage there. But I am sending that question to my cohort who works in such data and also consults with the DEQ staff.

I do know that the percentage of carbon that is sequestered in municipal solid waste in a landfill is between 81.4% or 74.5% depending on different estimation methods.

Here is a reference:

Interesting fact. The current head of Marion County Environmental Services, Brian May, used to work for the company that runs Coffin Butte landfill. My guess is he would have some ideas on that impact too.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

These are the questions that I submitted to the City Council asking them to find answers for us all about Solid Waste Management in Marion County/Salem.

1. The Marion County burner was built in 1987. The expected life of waste incinerators is 30 years. How much more usefulness can we expect to see in extending the life of this facility and at what cost? Isn’t it reasonable to assume maintenance and repair costs will increase? Who will pay for it?

2. Do our garbage rates subsidize other county services or expenses?

3. The Clean Energy Jobs Bill will appear before the state legislature in 2019. This bill will impose a fee on utilities and manufacturers that exceed 25,000 tons in CO2 emissions. If this bill passes, as predicted, how will it affect our garbage rates?

4. Metro decided in 2017 not to send their garbage to Covanta/Marion partially because of concerns about environmental justice issues concerning low income and minority populations exposed to hazardous chemical pollution. Why isn’t this an issue here as well?

5. The city of Salem has identified reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as a priority in its Strategic Plan. Sources indicate that a modern landfill such as Coffin Butte that captures methane to generate electricity has less greenhouse gas impact overall than an Energy from Waste facility, and striving to approach zero waste and switching to sustainable energy sources such as solar energy will certainly reduce greenhouse gas production.

If we seriously wish to address our carbon emissions, why not send our waste to Coffin Butte and direct even more resources toward reducing the amount of waste overall?

6. Salem is facing a budget shortfall of $6 mil. How much does the city pay for its garbage disposal?

7. In a recent opinion piece in the Statesman Journal, Commissioner Brentano refers to, “future options [which] could include a mixed-waste processing facility offering expanded opportunities for materials recovery, enhancing recovery for commercial entities, and working with our partners to develop new markets and uses for recycled products.” As the largest contributor to this waste, shouldn’t Salem be actively involved in making those decisions, as they will impact our garbage rates?

8. The city of McMinnville has an active Zero Waste program and has set a goal of reducing garbage 90% by 2024. Shouldn’t we focus our resources in that direction?

Susann Kaltwasser said...

So here is an answer to your question about where eon the list would Coffin Butte be if they took all our garbage...

"With regard to the blog question about where on the DEQ “highest greenhouse gas polluters” list the landfill would fall if it began receiving all of the waste that currently goes to the waste incinerator in Brooks, the issue is more complicated than “place on the list” because the 160,517 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents from the incinerator in 2016 is from burning less than 185,000 tons of waste received in one year, whereas the 28,366 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents for the landfill is for something on the order of 470,000 estimated tons of waste received at the Coffin Butte Landfill in 2016, plus all of the other hundreds of thousands of tons of waste at the landfill that were received in earlier years that are still producing greenhouse gases. It is not an “apples to apples” comparison. The greenhouse gases from the incinerator are released at the very moment they are burned, whereas the greenhouse gases from a given load of waste at the landfill are emitted over a period of many years (roughly 20 years). The number reported in the DEQ table is simply a snapshot of what was being released during the year of 2016 from all previous tons of waste ever dumped at the landfill.

Hauling the waste that had been going to the incinerator to the landfill instead would simply add 185,000 more tons per year to the landfill and over the course of a couple of decades could be expected to eventually increase the annual landfill emissions of about 28,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year by a fraction equal to about 185,000 divided by 470,000, all other factors being equal.

There are also other complicating factors that relate to how EPA or DEQ count greenhouse gases from “biogenic waste”, such as yard waste and food, versus “anthropogenic waste”, such as plastics. There are criticisms of how EPA “exempts” greenhouse gases from biogenic waste and “subtracts” incinerator gases for various reasons that are explained at:

When all of the exemptions, subtractions, and life cycles of waste are taken into account, it is virtually impossible to make truly accurate greenhouse gas comparisons between incinerators and landfills; but it seems clear to many of us that the Coffin Butte Landfill, as bad as it is, is a much better option for the environment than incineration.

Also, it is important to note that around 75% to 80% of the carbon that goes into a landfill remains sequestered underground indefinitely, whereas nearly all of the carbon that goes into an incinerator is turned into carbon dioxide and soot as soon as it is burned.

Also, the term “carbon dioxide equivalents” means all of the methane has already been multiplied by its greenhouse effect potency (about 25 times depending on the potency factor DEQ chose) to convert it to the equivalent greenhouse gas effect of carbon dioxide. Thus, if the landfill had emitted 100 metric tons of methane, it would have been reported in the DEQ table as about 2,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. However, that multiplication would only have been necessary for any methane that might have escaped the methane collection system at the landfill, which includes a gigantic impermeable membrane that is 60 mils thick and completely encloses all of the waste in each full landfill cell in an “envelope”. The methane is piped from inside those envelopes to an electricity generator where it is burned to produce electricity. Burning the methane turns it into carbon dioxide and water."

This is from a discussion between one of our members and a staff person at DEQ knowledgeable on the two facilities.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Those look like great questions for Council! Thanks for the additional information, also.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

One final word on this subject....well, for now.

At the work session there was little time for in-depth discussion because Marion County had a 90 minute presentation and they asked the meeting be cut to 2 hours. Some of the City Council questions were spot on and there needs to be much more investigation.

The County and the City agreed that there should be more dialog. There was no commitment to allow Salem to give input into the contract with Covanta that expires in September, but might be signed earlier. Councilor Tom Andersen made it quite clear that the agreement of 30 years ago to defer to the County on solid waste issues was over. He implied that they wanted to look at the legislation too.

But in the end I heard positive feelings about Zero Waste policies and more discussion on Climate Action Plan. They agreed to bring a motion forward in January for some action.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added brief update on the LUBA decision on the Costco project)