The Delta Thermo Energy Deal in Allentown is No More, But We Must Stay Tuned In Case the Other Shoe, When It Drops, Is Dropped into Another Ill-Conceived Incinerator

The City of Allentown is pulling out of the contract with Delta Thermo Energy.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/mc-allentown-delta-thermo-termination-contract-20140930-story.html

This news surely spells the death of the experimental trash and sewage sludge incinerator that threatens Allentown.

HOWEVER, the company’s air and waste permits are still out there.  The air permit could be sold to other companies who want to develop that site.  Their waste permit could be used by anyone here or elsewhere in the state, if not challenged.

We also have an ongoing lawsuit to get the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance on the ballot, so that voters can adopt a law protecting the city against incinerator pollution from any company in the future.  It’s also critical, since the case will affect whether local governments anywhere in the state can adopt their own clean air laws.

Allentown can breathe easy for now, but let’s not go to sleep.  This isn’t over yet. See Allentown Residents for Clean Air or www.stoptheburn.org for more.

This victory couldn’t have happened without massive organizing and legal support from me, Traci and others at Energy Justice Network. It cost us close to $20K and three years of work (and some of the legal work will still continue).

If you can help give back, your donations are much needed and appreciated, and will help ensure that this victory is final and that other communities also get the support they need.
http://stoptheburn.org/donate

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Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance

Allentown Residents for Clean Air

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
6/6/2014

CONTACT:
Rich Fegley 610-509-8996

Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance 

ALLENTOWN – Members of Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA) filed a motion in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas to bring a clean air ordinance to the Allentown voters.  Last year, ARCA members collected nearly 3,500 signatures, exceeding the 2,000 signature requirement for Allentown voters to put an initiative on the ballot.  The Allentown Clean Air Ordinance initiative would require any company building a new incinerator in the city to continuously monitor about 20 air pollutants, release the emissions data to a website real-time, and to cap emissions for four of those pollutants.

Only one company currently aims to build an incinerator in Allentown: Delta Thermo Energy A, LLC.  They hope to find adequate investors to start building their proposed facility soon, which would burn 150 tons per day of processed trash and sewage sludge.  Delta Thermo Energy was recently awarded air pollution and waste permits by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  The air permit requires only five pollutants to be monitored on a continuous basis, plus the darkness of the smoke and the global warming pollutant, CO2 — far short of what the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance would require.

Last October, the court refused to compel the county Board of Elections to put the ordinance on the ballot, siding with the county and Delta Thermo Energy’s claims that the ordinance is not legal because it requires approval from the state DEP.  That decision was not technically final, however, and could not be appealed for that reason.  The motion for summary judgment filed with the court seeks a final decision from the court.

ARCA members, including Rich Fegley, argue in a detailed 53-page brief that state law grants local governments the power to adopt their own stricter air pollution laws without needing DEP approval, and that such laws are needed in Allentown because the city is 14th worst in the nation for sooty-air and is the nation’s 11th worst asthma capital.

This motion introduces new arguments from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case decided in late December, in which the state’s highest court struck down major parts of Act 13, a 2012 law that the court said went too far in supporting the oil and gas industry.  The law, designed to support hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas, overrode local governments’ rights to adopt any sort of ordinance to restrict gas industry development.  For the first time, the court found that the rights to clean air and pure water in the Pennsylvania constitution can be enforced to protect the rights of the people.  It also found that the Commonwealth (including local governments) has a duty to protect these rights.

“If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can find that our constitutional rights to clean air and water make it illegal for the state to take actions that interfere with those rights, then surely the constitution backs up the clear language in our state law that gives Allentown the authority to adopt its own clean air ordinance. The highest court in the state has clarified that municipalities are obligated to protect the health and welfare of citizens, and that environmental rights are guarantees that have to be protected at every level of government.” says Breena Holland, political science professor at Lehigh University.

The motion also argues that Delta Thermo Energy and Lehigh County misrepresented election law to the county court.  These parties convinced the court last year that Boards of Election are empowered to keep an ordinance off of the ballot if they think it’s not legal.  However, ARCA members’ motion argues that these cases say the opposite.  “Pennsylvania’s law is clear on this,” says Diane Teti, one of the plaintiffs.  “Boards of Elections are empowered to make sure that signatures and notarizations are valid and sufficient, but that’s it.  There is no dispute that we met those requirements, and the Board of Elections is required to put it on the ballot.  Legality of ordinances is for the courts to decide.”

And decide they will.  The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas has given Delta Thermo Energy and the Board of Elections until July 1st to respond, after which the court will make a final decision.

“This fight is not over,” says Fegley.  “No incinerator will be built in Allentown, and if we have to appeal this all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to bring our right to clean air to the Allentown voters, we will.”

###


Sources:

Motion for Summary Judgment Brief:
http://stoptheburn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-06-01-ARCA-final-brief.pdf

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling on Act 13:
http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-127A-D-2012oajc.pdf

Asthma ranking: “Asthma Capitals 2013,” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.asthmacapitals.com ;http://www.aafa.org/pdfs/2013_AC_FinalPublicList1.pdf

New Year, New Numbers on the Allentown Incinerator Deal, New Polling Numbers for Ed Pawlowski

I’m going to let you in on a little not-so secret secret.  Here in Allentown, nobody believes that the controversial DTE garbage-to-energy plant is going to be built.  My hunch is that some of the people pushing for it and guiding it through its controversial (and, in my opinion, contrived) approval didn’t believe it would come to fruition even then.  The City of Allentown spent $500,000 on consulting in support of this project as directed by Mayor Ed Pawlowski.   One is made to wonder if the whole project wasn’t just a washing of said $500,000 to political allies/campaign donors.  One is made to wonder.

The indefatigable Rich Fegley posted this today on Facebook and on Molivinsky:

“As the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association has stated, Pawlowski and PFM used FALSE and MISLEADING information to convince the Public and City Council that the 35-year INCINERATOR contract was “good” and “better than landfilling” for the City and would save us “$25 million”.

The FACT is that the City now will lose $113 million according to Pawlowski and PFM’s projections. The false landfill costs of $92.29 compared to Easton’s 2014 contracted price of $40.44 for the next 7-years.

Allentown will now lose $113 million according to Pawlowski’s own projections.

Does anyone care about this loss? This is a real number. I am still shocked that no one has really picked up on this shit storm yet.

Think about this, if Pawlowski and PFM basically lied to us about the 35-year incinerator deal, imagine what lies we have been told about the water & sewer lease? Even if not “lies”, what we were told was more than likely misleading, as a few of us in the community have been saying.

Imagine what false and misleading information we have been given regarding the water & sewer deal. And how about the pension deal?

This is embarrassing for the City of Allentown. Why are we allowing Pawlowski and PFM to mislead City Council and the Public?

I blame members of City Council for claiming IGNORANCE when it comes to these DEALS Pawlowski is making.

I have heard Council members claim ignorance when it comes to detailed legal contracts and financial projections. President Guridy has said that he must simply trust the Mayor and the attorneys and accountants.

Ignorance is bliss. Wake up Anonymous, we are all being duped.”

He also posted this:

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 12.54.50 AM

Most observers understand that Mr. Pawlowski never imagined he could actually win the governor’s race in 2014.   The suspicion among many is that the goal was to do well enough in the primary to land a spot in the incoming Democratic administration.  Some Pawlowski for Governor PAC money here and there to eventual nominee (all legal), bada bing, bada boom.  Michael Donovan and Rich Fegley have made that scenario all but impossible thanks to their stalwart efforts in this year’s mayoral election.  These things matter.

Asthma and Our Urban Cores: Global Impact and Direct Local Action (vote for your lungs)

Like the doctor in this short and important story, I was also diagnosed with asthma in 1984. He was a Harvard med school student working in Haiti. I was a four-year old boy in Berks County making a late night emergency trip to the hospital in Allentown. If I’d lived in Haiti then, I might not have seen 5. The inequality that makes that statement true is even worse now. Please read this story. When you do, understand that our urban cores, and the 40 percent of kids in them with asthma, need preventative care just as much as kids in Haiti.

http://www.good.is/posts/the-story-of-the-miraculous-inhaler-and-why-inequality-is-everyone-s-problem/?utm_medium=tdg&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=ltitle&utm_content=What+a+%27Miracle+Cure%27+Asthma+Inhaler+Says+About+Our+Bizarrely+Unequal+World

In Allentown, this means, in part, fighting the Delto Thermo Energy incinerator rammed down our lungs.  There are two ways you can help.  If you’re voting in the May 21 Democrat primary, vote for candidates who oppose the incinerator.  These include all the challengers (Alfonso Todd, Kim Velez, David Melman, and Carmen Bell) as well as incumbent Ray O’Connell.   (Mr. O’Connell did vote for the water lease, something all four challengers oppose, as do I and many others).

It also means that come November, you should vote FOR the clean air ordinance.

The Clean Air Ordinance is on the Ballot in Allentown: Thank God

Why?  Here’s why:

http://chriscocca.com/2013/02/03/proposed-delta-thermo-energy-plants-proposed-location-the-most-regressive-thing-ive-ever-seen-in-allentown-in-one-tragic-picture/

And here:

http://chriscocca.com/2012/12/15/allentown-dte-deal-historical-omnibus-now-with-little-funding/

If you’d rather not click through the links, I’ll repost the content of the first one here.

Originally posted Feb. 3, 2013:

I’ve publicly condemned the sludge-to-energy scheme running roughshod over Allentown residents on various occasions in conversation, here on the blog, and at City Council meetings.  In December, I compiled a rundown of my opposition for the convenience of people coming here looking for information on how we as a community got where we are with Delta Thermo Energy, Allentown City Council, and the current Administration.

Frankly, the situation sucks.

Can I show you a picture worth thousands and thousands of words?

Good.  Here it is:

https://christophercocca.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/map.png

Thankfully, citizen-leaders in Allentown are organizing in support of a proposed Clean Air Ordinance for the City.

Did you know that the Pennsylvania Constitution names access to clean air and clean water as a basic human right?  Did you know that the same group of people ramming the incinerator through are also trying to privatize the City’s water?  To every liberal supporting these schemes, I ask that you’d reconsider, among other things, Pennsylvania’s designation as a Commonwealth.  I’d also ask why, in God’s name, you’d 1) support the DTE deal and 2) build the burn so close to where so many people in public housing live, play, get healthcare, and send their kids to school.

Proposed Delta Thermo Energy Plant’s Proposed Location: The Most Regressive Thing I’ve Ever Seen In Allentown In One Tragic Picture

I’ve publicly condemned the sludge-to-energy scheme running roughshod over Allentown residents on various occasions in conversation, here on the blog, and at City Council meetings.  In December, I compiled a rundown of my opposition for the convenience of people coming here looking for information on how we as a community got where we are with Delta Thermo Energy, Allentown City Council, and the current Administration.

Frankly, the situation sucks.

Can I show you a picture worth thousands and thousands of words?

Good.  Here it is:

map

Thankfully, citizen-leaders in Allentown are organizing in support of a proposed Clean Air Ordinance for the City.

Did you know that the Pennsylvania Constitution names access to clean air and clean water as a basic human right?  Did you know that the same group of people ramming the incinerator through are also trying to privatize the City’s water?  To every liberal supporting these schemes, I ask that you’d reconsider, among other things, Pennsylvania’s designation as a Commonwealth.  I’d also ask why, in God’s name, you’d 1) support the DTE deal and 2) build the burn so close to where so many people in public housing live, play, get healthcare, and send their kids to school.

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?