Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Queries For Anyone Seeking (Re)election

(Updated and edited after talking to Allie. Webmaster)

Before I cast any vote for for Mayor I would like to ask the candidates to use this forum to address a few issues. So, J.W. and the rest, please jump in...

First, where do you stand on the Siemens gasification deal? What has become of the $400,000 that the city has already invested in this very poorly thought out trash inceneration scheme? Why have we heard nothing more about it after handing Siemens the cash? Why did the city make no public response to the concerns of citizens?

It seems to me this move was more about pleasing some influential factions in Austin than for the good of San Angelo. Why were you not interested in surveying the public before moving ahead with this plan, as you did with the prison scam in the months prior? These two issues are very similar: shady and risky multi million dollar investments in foreign and undesirable industries slated for the same part of town... So why the two totally different responses?

Secondly, some members of the council have claimed the city (and county) has had discussions with Toshiba about building a nuclear power plant in San Angelo. Can you address this as well?

These two possible projects are each more massive in terms of investment and risk than anything our city has ever faced before. It is very much of concern that the public has been totally bypassed in regard to these issues. We need to hear where the city stands.

Here's a recap on the gasification issue:

In the area of economics this project does not add up. The extreme expense and environmental risks involved with this technology have prevented it from becoming established as an energy resource in North America. The revenue that this project is projected to generate is totally theoretical and speculative, and in fact, Siemens has no waste gasification plants in operation in the world. They do not even mention waste gasification technology on their extensive web-sight. The only experience they seem to have ever had in this experimental niche of the energy market was in Germany where their waste gasification plant was closed after an entire neighborhood in the town of Furth had to be evacuated when clouds of gas leaked from the plant, and left some local people with breathing difficulties. The incident prompted the Siemens Company to shelve its waste treatment business altogether, until now it seems.

A hand out provided at the only public meeting regarding this project declared that “Thermal Gasification Is Not Incineration;” however, the EPA's own data show that gasification units produce more dioxins, furans, nitrogen oxides, the same amount of lead, mercury and cadmium. Some of the chemicals such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, are reduced, but not eliminated. Other countries do classify gasification as incineration.

Supporters of this resurrected technology, such as Michael Williams, Texas Railroad Commissioner who has appeared in the paper touting this technology, and who is a member of the National Coal Council, (an important conflict of interest) has been taking advantage of semantic tricks that have been made possible by the EPA, using terms such as “zero emissions,” and “renewable energy” when referring to gasification. Clean up for these plants always adds hefty operational expenses (which creates a powerful disincentive to invest in adequate safety equipment, backup systems and procedures) and is never fail safe or complete. In addition, whatever toxins they can “remove” from the air, are still produced and must be disposed of or reintroduced into the environment somewhere. Most of the toxins that are diverted from the air will end up in the landfill but should be classified and treated as hazardous waste.

Methane is not toxic... Hydrogen sulfide and cyanide, nitrogen oxide, dioxins, furans, mercury and lead are without doubt produced by gasification and without doubt, top the official list of the most toxic, cancer causing, potentially lethal, substances known to science and man...

This hand out that our city saw as sufficient to inform the public was a 2 page excerpt taken from a 200 page report from and investigation into gasification by Alameda Power and Telecom, the public power agency of the city of Alameda, CA. Much like the scenario here in San Angelo, APT had first discussed siting the garbage plant in a low-income community, without public discussion. Residents and environmental justice groups responded by forming a three-city grassroots coalition that challenged the claims of “no emissions” and advocated for clean, renewable energy. The mayor of San Leandro, where the plant was to be located, spoke strongly against the project. After investing $500,000 to conduct the investigation into 6 different companies, they decided to REJECT a possible garbage “gasification” plant to meet Alameda’s future energy needs. If you would be interested in reading some of the public responses received by APT from the educated public in that area, they can be found at this web address: http://www.alamedapt.com/newsroom/reports/gasification_comments.pdf .

Obviously the proposal to build a gasification plant could not hold up against the scrutiny that occurred in that community, even after the initial $500,000 investment had been made. The full report reveals in that investigation into gasification, that the "Potential for Emissions of Air Toxics" was "less impressive" than all the other data on their score chart- yielding an average index of only 43 out of 100 when reviewing data from 6 different companies making proposals..."DESPITE THE FACT THAT ALL THE SUBMISSIONS MADE WERE CAPABLE OF MEETING FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL SITTING AND PERMITING STANDARDS..." The report continued that, “…the team chose an aggressive approach of deducting strongly for any technology that is potentially less than completely thorough in destroying or re-creating these (hazardous) compounds…”

We should ask: who among those supporting this proposal in our community has engaged in any serious inquiry into the risks involved and where are their findings???

City manager Harold Dominguez claimed at the public meeting that he had been to Japan and had witnessed how this alleged “cutting edge” technology is being implemented with great success. But, according to the Zero Waste Program Declaration of the Kamikatsu-cho, Katsuura, Tokushima Prefecture, September 2003, the people of Japan are pressuring the government to move away from these technologies, which have bogged down progression toward what they now understand is necessary –a zero waste management plan with a focus on recycling and consumer and manufacturer responsibility. “The tendency to build and become dependent on facilities such as incinerators is contributing to such major problems as environmental pollution, growing anxiety among residents and an enormous burden on regional government budgets. These expensive waste disposal facilities only encourage increased waste output and do not contribute to waste reduction.”

Some are claiming that burning trash is the solution to reducing the methane building up in the landfill. But as the space opens up, the city plans to charge other towns to bring their trash to the San Angelo landfill! This scenario will never result in the reduction of methane or waste. Once the investment is made there will actually be an incentive to perpetuate the accumulation of garbage and methane to continue to produce the gas.

If we look at the trends in waste management of some of the most progressive areas of the world, such as Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the EU and some states in America like California, Washington and Colorado, we can conclude that this muli million dollar investment will be obsolete in about 20 years – just about the time the city expects to pay off the debt and start making their money. Many in these areas also conclude that gasification is not a Green Technology but an incineration “make-over,” which is just as hazardous, and counter-productive to real solutions.

If San Angelo wants to look towards measures for our future and be ahead of the curve, first and foremost, we all need to change our mentality about trash, start producing less waste, and recycle what we can. This is the most efficient, effective, sustainable, clean, safe, and potentially lucrative, way of dealing with the very serious issue of waste management that our society faces today. If we understand that recycling before the is a fundamental part of any waste management program, but don't think West Texas is intellectually ready to implement big changes in this direction, then we need to educate.

We need our leaders to recognize how far behind a gasification plant could leave us in the decades to come. This project will put us years behind where we already stand on recycling, not to mention the ramifications of the hazardous waste build up in our community. We do not need to create more problems that will cost us again, in many ways, in the long run. We need leaders to promote “developments” with health, safety, quality of life, economic responsibility, and foresight in mind. All the theoretical cash generating projects should be secondary to this principle.

Here is one of the exclusions, passed by EPA in 2002 that that makes it possible for the industry to claim that this gasification is a “Green,” nonpolluting technology:

The EPA is proposing revisions to the RCRA hazardous waste program to allow a conditional exclusion from the definition of solid waste. This exclusion would be for hazardous oil-bearing secondary materials generated by the petroleum refinery industry when these materials are processed in a gasification system to produce synthesis gas fuel and other non-fuel chemical by-products.

Other loopholes are inherent the air emission standards themselves. In addition, the few records available regarding the testing of emissions on these plants have been done while the facilities were operating with controlled and reduced inputs, and often data collection begins subsequent to the initial start up period when most of the toxins are released.

While it has been said that the residual waste products we will be left with will be “inert” and disposed of in the landfill, this is also a conclusion drawn with the utilization of semantic and logistical tricks. The following is an except taken from a report by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League on the impacts of waste gasification on the environment and public health:

A national controversy about ash toxicity erupted in 1995 when then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner allowed incinerator operators to mix bottom ash and fly ash together prior to toxicity testing. Fly ash raises the pH of the ash, reducing the reliability of the tests. But citizens who gathered samples of ash from incinerators which had passed the EPA’s tests found very high levels of toxic metals. Gasification units produce both bottom ash and fly ash. The toxicity of gasification combustor ash would be no different than incinerator ash because the source, municipal solid waste, is the same.

Other countries treat bi-products produced from waste gasification as a concentrated hazardous waste, and are recognizing gasification as incineration, an old technology that has already wreaked havoc the world over…

Honest leaders with primary concerns for the health and well being of all should look very critically into EVERY angle of everything they do in the name of the public good. We cannot always rely on the biased “experts” to supply us with the information we need. Especially when looking at extremely costly and risky endeavors that require huge investments of money, time, and intellectual capital.

We have a methane problem at our landfill, just like every other city with a landfill. But responsible solutions do not involve burning trash.

The city of Denton has won an award for their methane solution. They harvest the methane and use the gas to fuel their entire fleet of garbage vehicles. No fuel surcharges on your trash bill in Denton. We do get a fuel surcharge on our trash bill, and the city has admitted that they will be accumulating money in their bank account due to the implementation of this policy. But don’t worry - they say they might throw out the old rebate bone if they get around to it…

Around 15 % of Austin Energy’s 665,000,000 GreenChoice kWh subscriptions come from electricity generated from landfill methane gas. Austin’s other green energy sources come from wind and solar.

In Maryland Heights, Missouri, the ecology club at Pattonville High School convinced the school board to use the landfill gas as an alternative fuel for its boilers. The use of methane in this application has saved the school $37,000 annually in expenditures.

The Goddard Space Flight Center landfill gas project is the culmination of a successful public-private partnership between Prince George's County, Md., Waste Management, Toro Energy, NASA and EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program. The federal space agency is using methane to heat water and buildings at the Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland.

In Arlington they use landfill gas to power the waste water treatment facility.

A similar project is utilized in Portland, Oregon where Microturbines, costing only $300,000 generate energy for the wastewater treatment plant from methane sewer gas, saving the city $61,000 annually.

San Angelo is flaring methane at the waste water treatment facility as well.

Why doesn’t the city consider harvesting the methane from both the landfill and the water treatment plant and using this clean burning fuel for something more innovative and less hazardous than burning trash to create a dirty, low energy gas?

A landfill gas to energy project costs about $1 million per mega watt, compared to the sketchy prospects of this waste to energy plant, which at best, theoretically translate into a cost of 2.5 – 10 million per megawatt. Some gasification attempts have closed due to their failure to generate sufficient energy. These initial efficiency estimates made by the city for this project will likely be much lower as we factor for the loss of chemical energy associated with materials that have been diverted away during the pre-treatment process, for the energy consumed by the pretreatment process, for the energy required to transport the trash from the landfill, and the for energy wasted in the destruction of recyclable materials lost to the gasification process.

If this technology is so “clean” and “green” then we should be wondering why none of the top 10 “Green” cities in the US has built one of these plants for waste management and supplemental energy? Why did Alameda County throw out the gasification solicitors after a lengthy inquiry and an initial $500,000 investment? Why didn’t Portland or Austin or Saint Paul or Philadelphia get one years ago? An LA ghetto even managed to avert a gasification waste to energy scheme. Are we really supposed to believe that San Angelo, where the concept of recycling is not even fully understood, is ahead of the curve in the implementation of green technology?

If this proposal is everything the proponents say it will be then the burden of proof is upon them. They need to make an attempt to show something substantial before they start building anything. The city has hastily indebted us for $400,000. That was a mistake. But, losing $400,000 is better than losing millions, and our peace of mind, as some other communities have on this technology. In the money department it is usually the corporation that loses the money when these deals go sour. In this case, we have been duped into assuming the financial risk along with the other risks.

It is obvious that this project has a great potential to cause harm in the future, retard our community’s development toward sustainable waste management strategies, and cause another economic disaster for the city. Though it is not always clearly evident, the most crucial battles for freedom and liberty are occurring at the local level across the nation. This is one of those battles.


For more on the issue check out the related links on the Conchoinfo websight.

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