Detroit incinerator announces it will permanently shut down

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Detroit incinerator announces it will permanently shut down

Postby Wilberforce » Sun Mar 31, 2019 6:22 pm

Detroit incinerator announces it will permanently shut down
By Sarah Cwiek • Mar 28, 2019

The company that owns and operates Detroit’s massive trash incinerator abruptly announced Wednesday that it’s closing down the facility.

The controversial incinerator is near the I-75/I-94 interchange on the city’s near east side, adjacent to the Midtown area. It’s been operating for three decades, though never without controversy.

Residents have complained about the odor for years, while nearby neighborhoods suffered from high incidences of asthma. The incinerator was under two state consent agreements with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality—one for odor violations, the other for reported emissions standards violations.

In January, environmental groups threatened to sue the facility if it didn’t clean up its act. A letter of intent to sue listed hundreds of occasions in which the incinerator was alleged to have violated its state permit that sets limits on carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Detroit Renewable Energy CEO Todd Grzech told the Detroit Free Press that the shutdown would happen this week, and be permanent; however, it could take 60-90 days to fully power down. Grzech said the decision to shut down was driven by both financial and community concerns.

Detroit Renewable Energy has owned and operated the incinerator since 2017.

Sandra Turner-Handy is with the Michigan Environmental Council and the group Zero Waste Detroit. She professed to be “ecstatic” about the shutdown, which community and environmental justice advocates have pushed for years.

“I danced today, but we need to get to work tomorrow, because now what do we do with the trash? We do not have a solid waste management policy in place,” Turner-Handy said.

In a statement, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the city’s “trash contract with Detroit Renewable Energy will be transferred to another company and our rates are locked in through the remainder of the contract, therefore, we expect there will be no added costs to taxpayers.” That contract had been set to expire in 2021.

The city built the incinerator in the 1980s, and still owns the land where it sits. Duggan said that means it “will soon have the ability to influence the future use of this property.”

“As far as future use of this site, it is my strong preference that this site never again be used as a waste incinerator,” he said. “We will be pursuing our legal options to make sure this remains the case."

The incinerator also burned waste from a number of suburban communities, including Warren.

Warren Mayor James Fouts says the city became aware last week that a shutdown was imminent, though it wasn’t sure if the closure would be temporary or permanent.

“I believe there were about $140 million in needed repairs, and apparently the parent company said it wasn’t worth the financial expenditure to do that,” Fouts said.

Fouts said Warren moved quickly to find a solution, and has found a new waste management company that will landfill the city’s trash under the terms of its contract with Detroit Renewable Energy.

“This should be a wake-up all for all cities that you cannot assume that any type of incineration or whatever deal you have is permanent, because all of these deals are basically short notice,” Fouts said.

The incinerator was a “waste-to-energy facility” that provided power to much of Detroit’s downtown and Midtown areas through a steam loop. Detroit Renewable Energy says it will continue to provide that power from its subsidiary Detroit Thermal through natural gas.

source
https://www.michiganradio.org/post/detr ... -shut-down
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The Detroit incinerator has been awful for 30 years. Why is it closing now?
Nancy Kaffer, Detroit Free Press Published 6:00 a.m. ET March 29, 2019

What changed?

It's not Detroiters, who have objected to the trash incinerator's presence in our community since before it opened in 1989.

And it's not the incinerator, which has been flouting state and federal environmental regulations for nearly that long.

But with little notice — even to the 150 workers who staff the place — Detroit Renewable Energy abruptly announced Wednesday that it was shutting the incinerator down.

CEO Todd Grzech all but admitted that the facility, nestled in the crook of I-94 and I-75, can't turn a profit if it doesn't break the law. I mean, what's your read of Grzech's insistence that there's not enough money to "be a good neighbor" and also "go forward as a business entity"?
People have hated the incinerator for a long time. This protest happened in 1990.

But breaking the law hasn't really been a problem for the incinerator's operators over the last 30 years. There's been little political will or practical ability to hold the incinerator accountable for violating air quality standards.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality cited Detroit Renewable Energy 750 times between 2013 and 2018, a Free Press investigation found. That's once every 2.4 days. But the MDEQ was willing to negotiate with the incinerator operator, fining it just $149,000 for eight of those offenses.

And that's more or less par for the incinerator course.

If you're like me, you expected this situation to limp along forever: Detroiters increasingly frustrated with the smokestacks belching noxious odors and dangerous pollutants over our neighborhoods (Full disclosure: I live within smelling distance of the incinerator); the incinerator's operator unwilling to fix the facility's flaws, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality willing to negotiate away the incinerator's most expensive violations; and the City of Detroit continuing to insist that its hands were tied.

Something, it seems, has changed.
Obviously, it's money

I couldn't ask Detroit Renewable Energy why now, because Grzech didn't call me back.

The answer Grzech gave reporters earlier this week is money. It's always money. But the why behind the money? I think it's people.
Detroiters changed the political math

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's office said Wednesday that the city has been pushing Detroit Renewable Energy to address problems at the site for a year, and that the mayor intends the site to never again be used for incineration.

It's a strong statement, says Margaret Weber, convener of Zero Waste Detroit, a community group that opposes the incinerator and advocates for more environmentally responsible waste solutions.

And it's in sharp contrast to generations of Detroit politicians, who have always accepted the incinerator as a problem we just had to live with.

Weber says Detroiters who live near the incinerator have continued to organize, most recently via consistent and ongoing reporting of odors and air quality problems to MDEQ. Grassroots groups delivered petitions to city hall, and widely circulated information about childhood asthma rates for kids who live by the incinerator.

It sounds lame to say they raised awareness, except that's what happened. Detroit city officials seem to have grown more receptive to residents' complaints, and more leery of the incinerator as a long-term solution to Detroit's trash needs.
The actual math also changed

The brainchild of late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, the incinerator was always controversial. Detroit environmentalists and the Province of Ontario sued to stop it before it was built. Young saw the incinerator as not just a solution to Detroit's trash problems, but as a moneymaker for the cash-strapped city.

The incinerator opened in 1989, and for the next 30 years was never not a problem.

Nor was it the moneymaker Young envisioned. The city sold the incinerator to the first of a series of private operators in 1991, but kept the $1.2 billion in debt it had issued to build the thing, because the last few decades of Detroit's history have not been characterized by good deal-making.

By 2018, a Great Lakes Environmental Law Center investigation in conjunction with Breathe Free Detroit found, Detroit was producing 22 percent of the waste burned at the incinerator, but paying about $25 per ton, about 67 percent more than other communities sending trash to Detroit, like Warren or the Grosse Pointes — those cities pay $15 per ton.

That's not a good deal, and it's a classic case of environmental injustice, says Nick Schroeck, a University of Detroit Mercy professor who served as executive director for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center: It's a waste disposal method that puts an unfair financial and environmental burden on a majority-minority community.

City hall insiders say there was a real chance Detroit was prepared to abandon the incinerator when its current contract expired in 2021, all of which must have made the prospect of significant investment in the incinerator, without a long-term commitment from its largest customer, even less attractive to Detroit Renewable Energy.
And some stuff in Lansing changed

The new Democratic elected officials in Lansing deserve a nod, Schroeck adds.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder saw the MDEQ as an economic development agency, per a mission statement penned on his watch. Environmentalists said Snyder's MDEQ focused on meeting business' needs, not prioritizing residents' health. Snyder also OK'd the creation of so-called "polluter panels" composed of industrial professionals that could override MDEQ permitting decisions.

An early executive order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would have abolished those panels, and reformed MDEQ as the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. (The GOP-led state Legislature forced Whitmer to leave the polluter panels intact.) Newly elected Attorney General Dana Nessel made it clear during last year's campaign that she prioritizes enforcing environmental regulations.

Nancy Kaffer is a Detroit Free Press columnist. Contact: nkaffer@freepress.com.

source
https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/col ... 292732002/
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