As the climate heats up once again around the wisdom of allowing the Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center (HERC) – or as it’s colloquially known – the downtown Minneapolis garbage burner – to up its garbage-burning capacity by 20% over its currently permitted limit, the advocates from every corner – the State Legislature, the MPCA, Hennepin County, Covanta Energy (contractor-operator of the garbage burning generator), Minneapolis, and several citizen commissions and advocates are active again in staking out recalcitrant positions for and against both the facility itself – and its application for increased burning. The heat comes from sometimes totally unrelated arguments regarding the same project:
Is Hennepin County’s and Covanta’s Waste to Energy (WTE) facility – the HERC – better at reducing the city’s and county’s wastes by not dumping them in landfills the way we as a society have done for centuries? Probably. The United States remains one of the very few industrial nations which still landfills nearly 70% of its waste while some European nations actually reuse and recycle up to70% of theirs, some of them almost down to zero landfilling.
But the questions don’t stop there. Just what are they burning in those furnaces and what by-products of that burning are adversely affecting human health? And, after the burning, what’s left in the ash and where should the ash go? If any or all of these things are as toxic as the burning facility’s critics say they are (and they must be, since it requires a Pollution Control Agency permit to even run the place). We know that deadly mercury, lead, cadmium, hydrochloric acid, Nitrogen Oxides – or NOx – carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and a couple of other pollutants are emitted in some quantity down there.
Some friends of the HERC insist that the WTE facility has reduced those toxic emissions by massive percentages and that the waste would be dumped in landfills if not burned. It’s opponents absolutely insist this is not so, while also saying that any burning of anything whatsoever is far too detrimental to the public health and adding exponentially to the greenhouse gases (GHG) responsible for climate change.
This is hardly a partisan issue since supporters of both the HERC and its opponents reside in all the parties and across the political spectrum.
Helping to feed the latest controversy was a MinnPost Community Voices columnsubmitted by well-known Minnesota science writer, filmmaker, and novelist, Shawn Lawrence Otto, who bio states that he “lives in a wind-powered, passive solar, superinsulated geothermal home he designed and built with his own hands. He recycles, composts and drives a hybrid car.” In his piece, he plumps for TWE as at least the current answer to landfilling garbage.
As for the process of approvals and appeals submitted to the umpteen agencies in charge:Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis Planning Commission and City Council, The MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA-permitting authority). Lara Norkus-Crampton, a nurse who has sat on the Planning Commission continually reminds whoever will listen that
“In the last four years that this Appeal has been dragging out, we have observed the County wanting to talk about anything besides the required findings this proposal couldn't meet to get the Conditional Use Permit to burn 20% more garbage per day at HERC. The issue before us is whether or not a HERC Conditional Use Permit should be allowed to be granted to burn approx 400,000 pounds more garbage per day. The required findings they were judged unable to meet by the Mpls Planning Commission are: 1) Will not endanger or be a detriment to the public health, safety, comfort or general welfare; and 2) Will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the vicinity, and will not impede the normal or orderly development and improvement of surrounding property for uses permitted in the district.
“The County and Covanta appealed our denial but in four years have still have not presented the data to prove that this proposal won't impact the health of people living downwind or negatively impact the property rights of those unlucky enough to be getting regular showers of toxic emissions.”
State Rep. Frank Hornstein and Ms. Norkus-Crampton and other opponents will face off a bit with passionate supporter of the increased capacity, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, as TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI query some of the key players in this four-year drama of application, appeal, revisions and more appeals and, ultimately to answer the questions we should all be asking: what is the safest alternative to the HERC facility and should it be allowed to burn even more than currently allowed. And what roles do all the elected and appointed officials in each jurisdiction play in all this?
STATE REPRESENTATIVE FRANK HORNSTEIN (DFL-61A) Mpls – Member of the House Energy Policy and Ways&Means Committees
COMMISSIONER PETER MCLAUGHLIN – Hennepin County Board of Commissioners - Chair, Public Works, Energy & Environment Committee; Member, Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board
LARA NORKUS-CRAMPTON, RN – Former Member, Minneapolis Planning Commission; Community and Environmental activist; Presented with Minnesota Nurses Association 2012 Bettye Shogren Health and Safety Award.
ALAN MULLER – International Environmental Watchdog; Founder, Green Delaware; Active opponent of HERC – and all burning.
JUSTIN EIBENHOLZL – Former Southeast Como Environmental Director; Founder, Como Green Village; Co-founder, Southeast Como Solar Pilot Project & the former MIMO (Move In/Move Out Waste Reduction Program); Co-founder, Clean Energy Now! (Coal-fired plant mitigation)