Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Chester Residents Up in Arms over New York City Trash Trains to be Burned in Chester

CHESTER - The Chester City Planning Commission will be considering a proposal at their 5pm meeting on Wed, July 9th which will pave the way for 30 years of trash trains from New York City coming to be burned in Covanta's trash incinerator on Chester's waterfront -- the largest trash incinerator in the nation.

The proposal on is "to construct a 15,000 sq. ft. Rail Box Building, 1,000 Sq. ft. Office Building and a Truck Scale" at the Covanta facility on Highland Ave in Chester.

This is one step in the process to enable delivery by rail of trash from New York City, according to a contract that Covanta made with the NYC Department of Sanitation in July 2013.  The contract runs for 20 years with two 5-year renewal options, and splits 1,000,000 tons of waste per year between Covanta incinerators in Chester, PA and Niagara Falls, NY. [NOTE: we mistakenly used an old figure of 800,000 tons last month, but learned that the contract calls for one million tons, half to go to Chester.] Niagara Falls residents first brought this to the attention of Chester residents last year, and have set up a StopBurningTheFalls.com as part of their effort to block a rail spur for the trash trains from New York City.

The meeting starts at 5pm Wed, July 9th on the second floor of Chester City Hall (1 Fourth St, Chester, PA 19013).  The Covanta proposal was postponed from last month's Planning Commission meeting after residents raised concerns.

"Chester is already home to the nation's largest trash incinerator, adding a lot of toxic pollution to the unhealthy air we already live with," says Kaya Banton, Youth Organizer for the Energy Justice Network and the Chester Environmental Justice group.  "Locking in 30 years of New York City waste burning is adding insult to injury.  Enough is enough."

"This filthy incinerator must be shut down, not propped up for another generation.  Chester has done more than its share as a regional dumping ground," says Carole Burnett, founding member of the DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice and resident of Chester's industrialized west end.  "Asthma and cancer is rampant in Chester, and Covanta is one of the region's largest polluters that contributes to these ailments, in part because they refuse to spend the money to install the pollution controls that most incinerators have."

"Coal power plants and trash incinerators are shutting down all over the country.  The trend is for these largest air polluters to close.  Helping Covanta lock in waste supply for three more decades is just wrong," states Mike Ewall of the Philadelphia-based national Energy Justice Network, who has been supporting the environmental struggles of Chester residents for two decades.  "Chester residents have suffered enough.  A plant this dirty would never exist in the Main Line.  This is a clear case of environmental racism."

A couple weeks after Covanta took the Planning Commission on a tour of their incinerator, Ewall and Chester Environmental Justice members presented to the Planning Commission members today, sharing findings about how Covanta's rail plan would enable more waste burning at a plant that lacks the pollution controls to reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions that cause asthma.  Chester's rate of childhood asthma hospitalizations is more than three times the state average.

The trash-by-rail plan would let Covanta increase from operating at 75% capacity to maximum capacity, burning hundreds of thousands of tons a year of waste above what they've been burning so far, according to waste data Covanta reports to the PA Department of Environmental Protection, which also shows that only 1.5% of the waste burned at Covanta's Chester incinerator comes from Chester.  The rest comes from the rest of Delaware County, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and places as far as Canada and Puerto Rico.  This rail plan could allow for Covanta to turn the facility into a regional trash transfer facility with no benefit to Chester.  "In Niagara Falls, Covanta asked for six times the capacity they need, and won local approvals without local officials realizing the overcapacity," says Ewall.

At the June 11 Chester City Planning Commission meeting, Media resident Reverend Horace Strand was the only member of the public to speak in favor of the project that others showed up to oppose.  Recently-discovered Department of Environmental Protection documents show that Rev. Strand, founder of the Chester Environmental Partnership, has been accepting ten thousand dollars a year from Covanta in a 2006 agreement that also allows him to help distribute another $15,000 a year for scholarships and church projects.

"Murder is murder, whether by gun or by chemical," said Chester resident, Shelia Hyland, at the last Planning Commission meeting.

Residents have been flyering the community and have launched a petition to local officials to urge a "NO" vote on this trash-by-rail plan.

Energy Justice Network ( www.energyjustice.net) is a national support network for communities fighting dirty energy and waste facilities, primarily coal, natural gas and incineration.

DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice and Chester Environmental Justice ( www.ejnet.org/chester/) are county and local groups working to oppose pollution in the City of Chester, Delaware County, PA.

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