From the Mankato Free Press: “Role of Wilmarth waste burning plant still contentious”

Veteran reporter Tim Krohn did an extensive story on this.

MANKATO — Since the late 1980s the Wilmarth plant in Mankato has been burning processed waste from counties in the Twin Cities and the region.

Before the plant was approved, local environmentalists fought bitterly against it, arguing the toxins from emissions would endanger people’s health. But over the decades the plant has operated at near capacity, largely without notice and hasn’t had any serious violations of its permit.

Now, as Rasmsey and Washington counties prepare to increase the amount of garbage that is processed and burned, Xcel Energy says the Wilmarth plant and another they operate in Red Wing play a key role in reducing the amount of waste going into landfills and producing electricity, with the Mankato plant’s two turbines making 20 megawatts of power.

But a Red Wing activist who’s long opposed the amount of waste being burned says Xcel shouldn’t be in the business of incineration and that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is misguided in pushing for waste incineration and doesn’t put strict enough limits on stack pollution.

Differing opinions

“Permits are not up to date and they’re not written with a priority for protecting people’s health and protecting the environment,” Alan Muller said. Decades ago, Muller helped design incinerators when he was a consultant to an engineering firm. But he came to believe that the MPCA, counties and others have made a mistake by focusing on burning waste.

“(The MPCA is) actively promoting incinerators. I say they’re wrong. But if they’re hot to trot to get more garbage burned, they could at least keep the permits up to date and up to current standards.”

Carolina Schutt, a permit supervisor with the MPCA, said the agency is doing its job and that stacks on waste incinerators are more heavily scrutinized than others. “The waste combusters are one of the segments that are highly regulated.”

Jim Kuhn, plant director at Wilmarth, said they closely monitor emissions and they’ve had no violations of the emission limits in their permits.

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