Allentown DTE Deal Historical Omnibus: Now With Little Funding!

And so comes the news that Delta Thermo Energy is having problems with private financing.

Many of you are Lehigh Valley or Allentown-based readers.  You need to care about this issue.  Many others of you aren’t here in the region, but should care about the narratives and machinations combining environmental concern and political — what, intrigue? — anywhere.  What affects us affects you.  What affects you affects us.

I’m going to share a series of posts here from the last year chronicling my reactions to various DTE-related items.  Then I’ll share some new thoughts.

First, from the famous City Council meeting where out-of-town union builders tried to intimidate everyone else out of the process:

March 8, 2012: My Thoughts on the Delta Thermo Deal and Last Night’s City Council Meeting and What I Said There

I just got home from City Council. I had to leave before the vote, but not before I waited 4 hours to share my thoughts with the public and with Council.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can learn about it here. In the interest of time, I’m just going to post my thoughts as I shared them. Some context: you should know that there was a very large union presence at the meeting, so much so that before 7 PM the Council Chamber was packed out and people weren’t being let in. It was at this point that some folks reached out to some local media, because it looked like the fairness, integrity (and possibly, legality) of the meeting was in jeopardy. Thankfully, that got resolved (and the media was already there). More context: the unions are strongly in support of the DTE project. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’m not.

What I ended up saying, in a nutshell, around 11 PM:

  • I live in Allentown, work in Allentown and pay taxes in Allentown.
  • I work for the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks, but I also sit on the Justice and Advocacy Committee of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches. In both capacities, labor issues are extremely important. The Justice and Advocacy Committee deals with issues of worker justice, livable wages, economic disparity, and I’m sympathetic to those concerns.
  • I was able to have a conference call today with Peter Crownfield (of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities LV) and a permitting official with DEP. That official explained to us that DTE does NOT have an air quality permit from the Commonwealth (they’ve used vague language to intimate that they do). They DO have an exemption that pertains to research and development, not a commercial facility. (Here I affirmed what Peter already said).
  • I talked about my discomfort with this and other transparency issues in this process. I said that unions know better than anyone that when Business isn’t transparent, Labor doesn’t win. The environment doesn’t win, our communities don’t win, and our politicians [in this case] don’t win.
  • The Mayor (he’s strongly in favor of the project) said he thought it was a progressive solution. I said “I’m having trouble reconciling that with the fact that I’ve seen nothing in this discussion that shows me there’s anything in place to incentivize our communities to waste less and reuse/recycle more. Progressive movements nationally have said with one voice that reduction and reuse are the way forward, and there’s nothing here that makes me think this project will reward that over the next 35 years. (It’s a 35 year commitment to 2012 technology. After 10 years, there’s an opt-out option, but that would require the City to buy out DTE’s interest and/or facility. That’s a lot of money we don’t have).
  • With respect to the gentleman from DTE who talked about one of the other bidders having just gone out of business as a sign that the City was right to chose DTE, I said that frankly, that makes me worry more about the utility of this project and its long term prospects for success.
  • I said that as City Council knows, the Pennsylvania Constitution makes some pretty progressive claims about the environment. Clear air, clean water, and clean land (all germane to this discussion) are a right of all Pennsylvanians. We need to be committed to a truly progressive way forward, and a deal that locks us in long-term to today’s technology (actually, three technologies that have never been used together in the way DTE proposes, and never put into a practice in a plant anywhere by DTE) negates the possibility of us moving forward in truly progressive ways.
  • 35 years ago, Bethlehem Steel would have paid a lot of the salaries in this room and put chickens in every pot. Whatever happened to Lehigh Structural Steel? Anyone remember Hess’s? Things change, and they change quickly and that’s more true now than ever. We know that this kind of technology is changing all the time: entering into this deal on these terms prevents us from pursuing truly progressive technologies as they emerge.
  • Thank you for the time.

March 13, 2012 : Dear Delta Thermo Energy: We Hope So, Too

If you search for Delta Thermo Energy’s website, this is what you’ll find:

Interestingly, that’s what DTE is basically also saying about the future site of their recently-approved and controversial Waste to Energy Plant:

Other details about the company on the web are sparing. The LinkedIn profile is sparse, but we do learn that the CEO, Rob V. (Rob Van Naardan), used to work for a private equity firm. Mr. Van Naardan, if you’re reading this, I’d sincerely like to talk to you about emissions issues and I’d love to learn as much as possible about your process. I’d also like to connect you and your company with the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks. Given your committment to near-zero emissions, DTE and AQP likely have some interests in common.

March 13, 2012: Our Very Own Richard Corey?  Marcel Groen, DTE, and the Governor’s Mansion

“With political connections/to spread his wealth around…”

Read this year-and-a-half-old story by Jarret Renshaw of The Morning Call.

Marcel Groen has been the chief advocate for the DTE project in Allentown. He’s also on their Board. And he’s also, according to the piece above, the go-to guy for Democrats with state-wide ambitions in PA. Marcel spoke on behalf of the project at last week’s council meeting and it’s no secret, nor is it a problem, per se, that Marcel and Allentown Mayor Pawlowski are friends.

Is it problem that there’s even a semblance of favoritism in the bidding process for Allentown’s waste-to-energy project? A lot of people think so.

Does this project ever come to Allentown if Groen isn’t connected to it? Does Groen ever share it with Mayor Pawlowski if lots of folks don’t think His Honor is entertaining a run for governor? Does City Council President Guridy support the 35-year contract with DTE if he isn’t entertaining, as we’ve heard, a run for mayor? We can’t know any of this. Is any of this a problem? I’m interested in your thoughts on the matter.

May 24, 2012: One With The Earth Founder Challenges Allentown’s Delta Thermo Energy Deal

I’ve been outspoken in this space about why I think the City’s deal with Delta Thermo Energy is bad business, bad politics, and bad environmental policy.

Dan Poresky wrote an opinion piece for the Morning Call last week outlining the issues. I encourage you to read it. It was one of the six most-read pieces on the Call‘s website last week. Word is that there will be a response from a city consultant forthcoming in the pages of the Call.

Lehigh Valley residents may know Poresky as the founder of the uber-successful Dan’s Camera City near 15th Street in Allentown. He’s also the man behind the One With the Earth symbol.

Here’s a picture of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (center) with Dan’s symbol in 2006 addressing climate change :

Image

His Honor and Dan aren’t in harmony on the DTE issue, and, frankly, I don’t think Allentown residents are sold on the process that brought this deal to the City. I know I’m not.

October 25, 2012: Do You Trust City Council to Protect Your Water Rates?

Emily Opilo has quickly become a must-read reporter at the Allentown Morning Call. This evening, her piece about the Public Utilities Commission and the proposed Allentown water system lease was posted here. The long and the short of it is that as things stand now, PUC’s lawyers are of the opinion that the Commission would have no jurisdiction over regulation of rate increases should Allentown lease our water to the private sector. City Council President Julio Guridy says this will give the City more direct control over monitoring rates, and that any rate hike would have to be approved by Council.

“It will give us an opportunity to keep better control,” Guridy said.

You’ll recall that last spring, City Council voted in favor of the DTE deal, which outsources the City’s solid waste management.

So we’ll see.

+++

Today:

And so we shall.  Some thoughts:

Rob Van Naardan’s background is in private equity.  If this is such a good deal for everyone, why isn’t the money coming?  Sure, the economy is still bad, but green infrastructure is the way forward.  Why all the trouble?

Did every Democrat on Council that voted for the deal do so 1) hoping to please Groen and 2) hoping or believing the plant would never be built?  Is this whole deal nothing more than $500,000 worth of cronyism on Allentown’s dime?

What thoughts do you have?

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7 Comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    I’m new to the story of the Allentown Incinerator, but I have just reviewed some of the DTE incinerator process diagrams that are posted online. I have a 12 year background in combustion engineering and process plants, so I will pass on this thought to you… DTE’s proposed method of capturing emissions particulate and compounds (SOx, VOCs, etc..) uses a wet scrubber in which water is sprayed across the post-combustion flue gas stream. The DTE plan is to send the resultant wastewater flow from the scrubber to the municipal sewage plant… which in turn will dry it and send it back to the incinerator to burn again.. and again, and again. This circular logic will create an ever-more toxic sewage stream… Do you know if this question has been raised?

    Regards,
    Scott Slingerland

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  2. Scott Slingerland makes a good point. There are three places where toxins can go in this process: the air, the ash (to a landfill where it will contaminate groundwater over time), and the wastewater. He points out that toxins going into the wastewater will end up back in the sludge. That’s largely true. Sewage treatment plants, in a nutshell, separate solids and liquids — the solids becoming the sludge, and the liquids are called effluent, which is dumped back into a river. Some of the toxins caught in the incinerator’s scrubbers and dumped down the train will end up in the effluent and thus the river. The rest will end up in the sludge going back to the incinerator, in the cycle Scott describes. Scrubbers never catch 100% of the air pollutants. Much still escapes. Ultimately, all of the toxins will end up in some combination of the air, the ash and the river. The ash will ultimately poison the groundwater below whichever landfill they use, which is why it makes far more sense to just dump the waste directly into a landfill without burning it first, as incinerating first just sky-fills some of it, creates more toxins that weren’t there to begin with, makes landfills more toxic, and does so at far greater expense.

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