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Environmentalists Urge MassDEP to Take Precautions in Updated Waste Management Plan

As state officials in Massachusetts are working to develop a new waste-management master plan, environmental advocates are warning that some options would open the door to higher levels of air pollution.

One proposal being considered in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Solid Waste Master Plan is to exempt so-called “gasification” facilities from a 23-year-old moratorium that prevents trash from being incinerated. Currently only 7 incinerators exist in the state, and were established before the 1990 moratorium was enacted. The gasification process is promoted as a cleaner method of disposal than traditional incineration, and is used to convert solid carbon-based waste into a mix of gases that can then be burned and used to generate electricity. 

MassDEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell said that gasification facilities would help reduce greenhouse gasses included methane being emitted from landfills in the state.

According to Kimmell, any gasification facility would still be subject to all permitting, would have to prove to be energy efficient, and would not be allowed to combust recyclable material.

But some environmental groups are saying that the any combustion technologies including traditional incineration and gasification do not without pollution to the environment. Dan Proctor is chair of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club…

The Partnership for Policy Integrity also submitted comments warning against gasification plants. In an analysis of the proposed Taylor Biomass plant in Montgomery, NY, the PFPI found that gasification does not destroy toxins if contaminated fuel is used. The group also warns that gasification plants when used to generate electricity would not comply with the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

Kelly Bitov, an attorney with the PFPI, said that her group would rather see the state focus on enforcing existing waste disposal bans and stricter enforcement of recycling laws.

Commissioner Kimmel acknowledged the challenge in enforcing recycling regulations.

Kimmel explained that a new regulation being considered would require landfill and incinerator owners to hire independent third-party inspectors to inspect loads and ensure recycling compliance.    

Kimmel also said that the DEP will take all comments into consideration after the public comment period ends tomorrow, and he estimates the state will release the plan within 30 to 60 days of the end of the comment period.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.