Incineration and Gasification Pollution

The Clean Water Action Council has opposed incineration projects in Wisconsin for many years. Recently, a new form of incineration is being promoted by the incinerator industry as a form of renewable energy, and the industry has successfully lobbied to have pyrolysis gasification projects be eligible for “green energy” grants. This put millions of dollars on the table for the industry, and they have focused some of their efforts to have projects sponsored by Native American tribes, nation-wide. Projects built on reservations would have less local control and regulation, and possibly be less scrutinized by the sponsoring tribes.

The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin proposed one such gasification project. Through their LLC, The Oneida Seven Generations Corporation (OSGC), the tribe told local residents that the project was a green energy project without smokestacks and emissions. Tribal members were the first to reject the project when it was proposed for tribal land. Sites were then sought in other local communities where it was rejected by both Ashwaubenon and Hobart, but later accepted by Green Bay.

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However, OSGC’s conditional use permit application and testimony to the Green Bay Plan Commission and Green Bay City Council contained so many misrepresentations that the CWAC Board of Directors was compelled to lead the opposition to successfully overturn the permit. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Marc Hammer later reiterated all of CWAC claims of a fraudulent permit when he found the City was within their legal right to rescind the permit. The circuit court decision was later overturned by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the State Supreme Court upheld that decision.

The lesson from this case for any city council is that council members themselves must reject statements made by an applicant that are clearly fraudulent. They must not rely solely on a planning commission, which in this case did not do due diligence on behalf of the council.

Citizens need to be aware that these pyrolysis gasification plant proposals are being cloaked in favorable terms like “a renewable energy project,” “recycling trash and converting it to energy,” and “green energy.” In northeastern Wisconsin, OSGC, Alliance Global Conservation (ACTI), and American Combustion Technologies Inc. (AGC) led the public to believe that pyrolysis gasification, the method proposed to change garbage to energy, is not a form of incineration because it is a “closed loop process.”

However, Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice, while researching at the request of the Oneida Tribe, found that to be a false statement. The gases created from heating the trash would be sent to internal combustion engines, thus releasing emissions into the air. These emissions usually include particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals, dioxins, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, carbon dioxide and furans. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ report for this project indicated there would be 18 toxic air pollutants released.

The promoters of this project reassured concerned citizens that these toxins would be removed from the emissions using state of the art pollution control devices. However, studies in Europe, where there have been numerous problems with pyrolysis gasification plants, show that toxic emission levels from the combustion stage of these plants are much the same as what is found coming from municipal incinerators. Toxins that are removed from emissions are not destroyed, but are concentrated in fly ash, char, slag, and wastewater, which then become a toxic material. Studies in the U.S. have shown that there is little success in removing dioxin, the most potent carcinogen known, from these emissions, and that incinerator workers and those living near incinerators have the greatest risk of exposure. Burning trash is not a form of recycling. When the OSGC first proposed the plant, the Sierra Club came out against the proposal pointing out that the plant would not be recycling trash. Once the materials were burned, there was little left to recycle and that communities needed to do more with developing ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle trash rather than burn it.

Burning would further undermine efforts to minimize the production of toxic and non-recyclable materials. Governor Walker’s budget proposals also create further risks by cutting funds to municipalities for recycling programs. With recycling programs in jeopardy, the risk increases for greater amounts of recyclables being burned in a trash to energy plant. We await efforts by Governor Evers to restore funding for recycling.

CWAC continues to monitor proposals for incinerator and gasification plants throughout Wisconsin and for a time, served on the Wisconsin Council on Recycling Plastics Subcommittee. CWAC was instrumental in moving some difficult to recycle plastics from the energy recovery category (incineration) to the reuse category, such as for the manufacture of plastic sidewalks.

Resources:

To read more about the false claims put forth by OSGC, ACTI, and AGC, read “Evaluation of the Oneida Seven Generations Corporation Proposal for Pyrolysis Gasification facility at the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin” by Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice found on the their website, http://greenaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Greenaction-Evaluation-of-Oneida-Pyrolysis-Garbage-Plant-Proposal-March-7-2011.pdf

“An Industry Blowing Smoke: 10 Reasons Why Gasification, Pyrolysis & Plasma Incineration are Not ‘Green Solutions” by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives: http://www.no-burn.org/wp-content/uploads/BlowingSmokeReport-1.pdf

For updates on gasification incineration projects in Wisconsin, go to the Waukesha Co. Environmental Action League: https://www.weal.org/gasification

© Clean Water Action Council

P.O. Box 9144

Green Bay, WI 54308

(920) 421-8885


Office location:
A307 MAC Hall, UW-Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311

contact@cleanwateractioncouncil.org