First they Come for the Peanut Shells

by jim on April 7, 2012

 

Here's a story from Florida about the Brooksville Cemex cement plant's new permit that displays the quintessential spin from the cement industry about their transformation into garbage burners. 1)The headline uses the preferred industry term of "alternative fuels" instead of garbage. 2) It leads with all the feel-good fuzzy bio-garbage like peanut shells and wood chips. Only further down do they let you see the rest of the list –  "including plastics, carpet, roofing materials and wood treated with creosote. Included, too, are so-called engineered fuels such as cleanup debris from natural disasters, processed municipal solid waste, dried and sanitized sewage bio-solids, noninfectious hospital materials, expired pharmaceuticals and confiscated narcotics." 3) It makes sure you know that this new garbage burning will shrink the plant’s carbon footprint and lower emissions of toxic chemicals like Mercury – but the plant will not be amending its operating permit to reflect those proposed decreases. 4) for all the talk of "alternative fuels," the plant is mainly still burning coal and tires, both of which it's been burning for a long time. The largest expense of running a cement plant is fuel costs. The industry is always finding a way to cut those costs. In the 1980's and 90's it tried turning cement kilns into hazardous waste incinerators by getting paid by polluters to burn their crap for less money than the pros. That met with quite a bit of public resistance and new regulations that made it harder to keep doing that. So now the industry is pivoting toward a laundry list of  "non-hazardous" wastes – municipal garbage, sewage, medical waste, plastics, car interiors – garbage. Except that anyone who's ever studied the the history of American  garbage incineration – and there's quite a history – knows there's nothing non-hazardous about the practice. Just because a waste isn't classified by EPA as a "hazardous" waste coming in the front door doesn't mean it doesn't emit hazardous air pollution when it's burned or carted off as ash out the back door. And even thought there's a lot of boasting about emission decreases, the industry isn't backing up that talk with real cuts in their permits. Places like Midlothian, home of three huge cement plants, and a concentration of cement manufacturing unmatched anywhere else in the US, are looked upon as nothing but large "landfills in the sky" to both waste producers and the cement plant operators themselves. TXI's Midlothian plant, directly south and upwind of DFW, just received a new permit "amendment" last June that allows them to burn the same kind of  long list of garbage as the Florida kiln. They got this without any public notice or hearing or anything. None required as long as TXI promises, cross their heart, that the emissions won't increase above what they are now. And if they do? We won't even be able to know for sure until a test burn that will occur after they start burning garbage – they can wait up to a year to do the testing. This is why public participation is an over-arching issue in Texas now.Without it, there are no checks and balances. Only more experiments taking place in your lungs.

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