Recently, after years of campaigning by residents, Hennepin County abandoned it’s plan to burn more garbage in downtown Minneapolis and called upon the city to collect more materials for recycling. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which had always opposed the residents’ campaign, reacted with displeasure, broadcastingan email
saying: “The HERC incinerator will remain an important component of how the metro area manages garbage disposal
It should be no secret that a key cause of Minnesota’s failure for many years to make real progress on recycling is the MPCA itself. The MPCA makes waste policy, issues permits for waste facilities, does environmental review of many of them, and also makes grants for building/expanding these same facilities. There are huge conflicts of interest in these multiple roles. How can anybody believe the PCA is objective about a facility that it is funding? Worse, the PCA’s waste policy people act as a branch of the garbage incineration industry. Rather than focus on the top of the Minnesota “waste hierarchy”–source reduction and recycling–the PCA inverts the intent of the law and focuses on the bottom of the hierarchy–dumping and burning.
The Minnesota Legislative Auditor has said:
Minnesota law says that counties should manage municipal solid
waste according to a hierarchy that makes waste reduction, reuse, and
recycling the preferred methods and landfill disposal the least
preferred. In 1989, the Legislature adopted comprehensive waste
reduction and recycling legislation, commonly referred to as SCORE,
to support the waste management hierarchy. Among other things, the
legislation authorized state block grants to counties that could be used
for recycling and waste reduction activities, education, developing
markets for recycled material, and management of household
hazardous waste. The legislation also established goals for recycling
and waste reduction.
But the PCA puts constant pressure on counties and municipalities to burn more, at great expense and harm to air quality, while doing very little if anything to increase recycling. Shameful examples of this can be found all over Minnesota, but here I will focus on Red Wing and Goodhue County. The MPCA’s chief incineration agent is Sig Schurle, who prowls the state promoting the big burn. (Schurle doesn’t return calls from this writer. As a matter of fact, nobody at the MPCA seems to be returning my calls right now.)
The City of Red Wing has been into garbage incineration for a long time, with the usual toxic effects not only on the air but on policy. For instance, Red Wing has lobbied the MPCA for years to get it to force more garbage from the Cities to be sent to Red Wing. Why, because Red Wing’s burner has been losing the City lots of money for years and city officials’ idea of how to fix that is to get more garbage to burn. Red Wing public works director Rick Moskwa said “since I took over that facility ten years ago, all I’ve done is look for waste [to burn].” The City has curtailed library hours, stopped distributing a newsletter, and curtailed other useful services while wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars per year keeping the burner going.
Now, Red Wing has shut down its municipal burner–old, dirty, obsolete, with a bad record of permit violations–and is working various alternative burner scams with Xcel Energy and the MPCA. Why? Xcel Energy also burns garbage in Red Wing in two converted 1940’s coal burners. Xcel also wants to burn more garbage. So the Red Wing legislative agenda for 2014 includes opposing a container deposit bill, more Cities garbage burned in Red Wing, and diversion of money from the Xcel “Renewable Development Fund” to buy Red Wing a garbage grinder–to increase burning at the Xcel incinerators. Is all this shameful enough? Read on:
For years Red Wing has also tried to force municipalities and waste haulers in and around Goodhue County to send their garbage for burning in Red Wing. So far, these efforts have failed. Now, Xcel, Red Wing, and the MPCA are trying again, beating on Goodhue County with carrots and sticks:
(1) The MPCA is withholding approval of the Goodhue County solid waste plan;
(2) he MPCA has withheld the last three “SCORE” payments–totaling about $70,000–to Goodhue County, and
(3) is offering to transfer responsibility for an old closed landfill to the state. This would require special legislation which Rep. Tim Kelly is reportedly prepared to introduce.
The conditions: Goodhue County to pass a “flow control” ordinance forcing all county garbage to be taken to Red Wing for grinding up and burning. Red Wing projects this monopoly would bring the city garbage operation an additional 8,000 tons/year of waste. The motivation is financial: it would bring the money-losing operation closer to break-even.
In effect: Red Wing’s money-losing garbage operation, and the Xcel garbage burners, would be subsidized by rural Goodhue County residents.
At a March 3rd “workshop” on the scheme, attended by Red Wing city council members, Sig The Burner Man, and Greg Isakson, Goodhue County Public Works Director and County Engineer. All said they liked the idea. No public comment was allowed. No mention was made of the health effects of more garbage incinerator pollution. No mention was made of recycling except as a possible future issue. (Red Wing’s Deputy Director of Solid Waste, Jeff Schneider, used to be “State Recycling Coordinator” at the MPCA.)
Data provided by Goodhue County indicates county recycling rates peaked at in 43% in 2007 but had dropped to 37 by 2012.
What are the implications of this scheme?
Higher disposal costs for everybody in Goodhue County, especially rural and small-town residents.
More health-damaging incinerator pollution.
Even less recycling.
Possible serious damage to private businesses such as the P.I.G. landfill in Hager City, Wisconsin (across the Mississippi River from Red Wing) that now takes a lot of waste from Goodhue County.
Well, some of the costs of Red Wing’s misguided waste operations could be shifted onto other County residents, and possible landfill cleanup costs could be shifted onto the entire state. But are these real benefits?
Communities all over the world are getting serious about source reduction and recycling (“zero waste.”) There’s no reason the City of Red Wing, and Goodhue County, couldn’t do the same (Except for the perverted guidance they get from the “Pollution Control Agency .”) With time and commitment, we could work up to a recycling rate of 80%, leaving a relatively small amount of stuff to be landfilled, and have solid waste management we could be proud of.