The Clean Water Blog

Moving Baltimore toward cleaner air and zero waste

On September 21, the Maryland Department of the Environment held a public hearing to conclude a nearly two-year process to update air pollution regulations for municipal waste incinerators in Maryland: the BRESCO facility in Baltimore, and the Dickerson facility in Curtis Bay. While Dickerson's nitrogen oxides emissions are relatively low, BRESCO emits more nitrogen oxides per unit of energy generated than any of the state's coal plants - and has not reduced its emissions in the past decade, when the coal plants have either closed or significantly cut their emissions. The regulations the state has proposed would reduce emissions from BRESCO by 200 tons per year, still permitting 940 tons of nitrogen oxides to be emitted into Baltimore's air - a key component in creating smog and contributing to asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other negative health impacts. Nitrogen oxide emissions also contribute to nitrogen overload in the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding local waterways, harming drinking water quality and our local waterways. MDE has set up a process for writing much stricter air pollution regulations in the next two years - but that process has some loopholes. Read a technical analysis of this regulation by our allies at the Environmental Integrity Project and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation here (PDF).

Using whatever tools we can to reduce air pollution is important - but there's a bigger picture. Whatever controls for nitrogen oxides are installed on BRESCO, it will continue to release other pollutants, drain money from the state and the city, release greenhoues gasses, and enable a continued dependence on single-use products that drive resource extraction. A transition to Zero Waste - an ecosystem of policies aimed at reducing trash that must be burned or landfilled as close to zero as possible. A transition to zero waste in Baltimore would involve developing municipal composting, recycling and reuse businesses, alternatives to single-use disposable products, and other solutions that would create more local jobs. And so before the hearing, we rallied with our allies at United Workers, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Interfaith Power and Light, the Baltimore Compost Collective, and more to demand not only cleaner air in Baltimore, but a transition to zero waste. Read more about the rally here.

After the rally, we marched from Carroll Park to the Maryland Department of the Environment, led by Rodette Jones, who lives in Curtis Bay and leads the Filbert Street Garden, home of the Baltimore Compost Collective.

At the hearing, community leaders, impacted residents, environmental experts, and faith leaders spoke out demanding cleaner air and a transition to zero waste. Some highlights:

We were glad to deliver our testimony (read it here!PDF iconClean Water Action comments on Proposed Action on Regulation for Incinerator NOx Limits.pdf) and join our allies in calling for stricter air pollution limits and better waste policies overall. Although multiple representatives of Wheelabrator, the company that operates BRESCO, were in attendance, none of them spoke up to defend the facility. We're looking forward to continuing to work for cleaner air in Baltimore, zero waste policies that create more and better jobs, and a future without trash incineration in Baltimore.