Environmental advocates made a public push in Harford County Tuesday for local and state officials to remove chicken waste incineration from Maryland's approved slate of renewable and clean energy sources.
"As climate change is happening, we need to move toward more renewable sources of energy," Elena Cuadros, a Harford County field organizer for the nonprofit Food & Water Watch, said during a late morning press conference in Tydings Park in Havre de Grace.
Incinerating chicken manure to produce energy should not be one of them, according to Cuadros, one of a dozen people who gathered in the gazebo in Tydings Park, with the nearby Chesapeake Bay behind them.
The group included local volunteers who spent three months helping Cuadros gather more than 1,100 petition signatures against chicken waste generated energy.
Environmental advocates in Maryland and other states, who oppose using chicken waste to generate energy, say burning it would only add to existing air pollution woes.
Incinerating the chicken manure, which is also used as a fertilizer on farm fields, puts pollutants such as particulate matter, dioxin, PCBs and heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury into the air, Trisha Sheehan, the eastern field director for the nonprofit Moms Clean Air Force, said during the press conference.
"The toxins disproportionally harm small children," she said.
Sheehan, a mother of two sons, who lives in New Jersey, mentioned during the press conference that she has nieces who live in Harford County and said later she is the organization's "on-the-ground representative" for Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
Cuadros and her supporters plan to deliver the signed petitions, many of which had been hung as a backdrop on the gazebo railing, to Del. Mary Ann Lisanti.
Food & Water Watch, which is based in Washington, D.C., also planned similar events Tuesday in College Park and Annapolis.
Lisanti, a Democrat, represented the Havre de Grace area on the Harford County Council for eight years before she was elected to the House of Delegates in 2014.
She was not present during Tuesday's press conference, nor were any Havre de Grace city or Harford County elected officials.
Cuadros, however, said she had been in touch with Lisanti and would be working out a time and place to meet her and drop off the petitions.
"Hopefully, Delegate Lisanti also heard us and takes a strong stand on legislation promoting clean renewable energy," Cuadros said.
Veronica Cassilly, of Darlington, said she met Cuadros when she was seeking signatures during the summer, and Cuadros invited her to speak Tuesday. Cassilly's Harmony Church Farm provides goats to remove invasive plant species.
"Burning chicken manure is really not a good idea," said Cassilly, who has two brothers serving in the Maryland General Assembly, Del. Andrew Cassilly and Sen. Robert Cassilly.
Cassilly noted "many other ways we can deal with this problem" by making simple choices about one's food.
"We can choose to eat locally grown chickens, we can choose not to eat chicken, we can choose to eat less meat, but we can't choose what to breathe," she told the group. "All of us are subject to what everybody else chooses to put into the air."
Fawn Palmer, of Abingdon, who volunteered with Cuadros' petition drive, shouted "Amen!" when Cassilly mentioned air pollution.
Cassilly also thanked Cuadros, who is from San Francisco, but has been living in Harford since mid-August while working on the petition drive.
"What you left here with all of us is a little piece of inspiration," Cassilly said.
Ron Henry, a Forest Hill resident and emeritus chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, also lauded Cuadros' efforts.
"To get people in the county here excited about an issue of this nature is a very difficult task," he said.
Henry said it took "years and years" of cooperation among many environmental groups, residents and elected officials to get "meaningful" renewable energy legislation passed.
"We are indeed in climate change, and the majority of the world's scientists do agree upon this and we can't step back from it," he said.
"It's important that Maryland's RPS actually categorizes actual clean sources of energy and not waste incineration, because it's bad for the environment, it's harmful toward people's health and it shouldn't be categorized as clean," Cuadros noted.
The RPS she referred to is the Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, a suite of alternate energy sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectric, that power providers must use to generate a portion of their electricity supply, according to a federal Department of Energy web page on Maryland's REPS.
The portfolio was established in 2004, and it has been revised multiple times. Chicken waste is listed among the Tier 1 sources, along with wind, solar, biomass, gas generated by decomposing organic waste, the ocean, fuel cells powered by renewable energy, "small hydro" and waste-to-energy incinerators, according to the DOE web page.
Hydroelectric "other than pump-storage generation" is a Tier 2 source. Utilities must obtain 20 percent of their power from Tier 1 sources by 2022 and 2.5 percent until 2018 – the requirement for Tier 2 sources will "sunset" by 2019, according to the web page.
Chicken manure was moved from the Tier 2 list to Tier 1 after state legislation was enacted in 2008, according to Tori Leonard, a spokesperson for the Maryland Public Service Commission.
"Poultry litter-to-energy is an eligible resource only if the source is connected with the electric distribution grid serving Maryland," she wrote in an email Tuesday.
Leonard also said no facilities that would provide renewable energy credits via poultry litter have been licensed to operate in Maryland, and PSC officials are "not aware of any pipeline of poultry litter renewable energy facilities in the State."
Cuadros said many people did not know chicken waste is part of Maryland's renewable energy portfolio.
"When people found out they were very quick to sign the petition," she said.