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Incinerator pollution is well documented

I am responding to the recent letter by William F. Brandes ("O'Malley right on waste incinerators," Oct. 24) concerning The Sun's editorial on incinerators and the Environmental Integrity Project report on waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerators ("Clean power or dirty air?" Oct. 17).

Mr. Brandes complains that our report on the environmental and energy impacts of waste-to-energy incinerators rests on biased data. The renewable energy portfolio is supposed to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and the pollution they create. Thus, it seems fair to compare emissions from WTE plants to those from coal boilers they will replace.

Our report compares emissions per hour of energy from Maryland's WTE incinerators and four largest coal power plants that represent nearly 90 percent of the coal-fired generation in Maryland. Our report actually understates differences in emissions rates because it does not include data for 2010, when coal plants had to cut emissions much further to meet the state's Healthy Air Act deadlines. WTE incinerators emit more nitrogen oxides, lead and mercury for the amount of energy generated than do Maryland's coal plants, and when including the 2010 data, the gap in emissions rates only increases. The 2010 data is on our website.

WTE plants have been reclassified as a "top tier" renewable, equivalent to solar and wind technologies that do not generate any air pollution at all. With due respect to Mr. Brandes, we do not think Maryland has made a "balanced" decision by promoting a technology that pollutes more per hour than coal power and which offers fewer jobs and less economic benefits than recycling and source reduction. Mr. Brandes suggests that we defer to the state because it must "weigh" competing interests. But the Maryland legislature is not Plato's Republic and neither are federal or state bureaucracies. Most decisions are a messy hybrid of political and policy considerations, as Mr. Brandes should know after 30 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rather than respond to our data, Mr. Brandes dismisses it as the work of "special interest advocates." Mr. Brandes has done paid consulting for the WTE industry he promotes, according to an earlier letter in the Sun. That should not disqualify his opinions, which deserve a respectful hearing. But we ask that he extend the same courtesy to those who disagree and rely on facts rather than insinuations about motive.

Eric Schaeffer, Takoma Park

The writer is executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

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