Direct mailing urges residents to oppose Baltimore's clean air act. Here's what the bill would do.

The Wheelabrator incinerator is seen from Middle Branch Park. The company that operates the incinerator said it would have to shut the facility down if a proposed Clean Air Ordinance passes Baltimore City Council.
The Wheelabrator incinerator is seen from Middle Branch Park. The company that operates the incinerator said it would have to shut the facility down if a proposed Clean Air Ordinance passes Baltimore City Council. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Wheelabrator Baltimore, the company that disposes of the bulk of the region’s trash, recently sent out direct mail asking residents to call on the City Council to reject a proposed Clean Air Ordinance. Here's what the bill would do — and what the flyer left out.

What the bill would do

It would require large incinerators in the city to reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxides to a concentration of 45 parts per million, on par with standards imposed on newly constructed incinerators. That is a far more stringent standard than a Maryland Department of the Environment nitrogen oxide limit of 145 parts per million averaged over 30 days.


It would also impose limits to sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions that are on par with the emissions controls on new incinerators. And it would require constant monitoring for a variety of pollutants, shared online in real time.

Maryland Department of the Environment regulators have proposed new regulations for the Wheelabrator Baltimore trash incinerator that would cut its emissions of one harmful air pollutant by about 15 percent and require it to study whether it can clean its exhaust even more aggressively than that.

It would apply to Wheelabrator Baltimore, a trash incinerator whose white smokestack towers over Interstate 95 near Russell Street, and Curtis Bay Energy, the largest medical waste incinerator in the country. Wheelabrator burns household trash from across the city and also from around the region and state.

‘The facts’

Wheelabrator’s flyer, and a new website GetTheFactsBmore.com, stress that the Environmental Protection Agency prefers waste incineration to landfills and that it meets hundreds of air quality and other environmental standards every day. That is all true — the EPA endorsed the technology even under President Barack Obama, saying it produces less greenhouse gases than landfills do.

The company also stresses that the city has no plan for disposal of its non-recyclable waste without the Wheelabrator incinerator. That is true, for now, and it’s relevant because the company says it would have to close the incinerator if the Clean Air Ordinance is passed. At a hearing last week, Jim Connolly, vice president of environmental, health and safety for Wheelabrator Technologies, said only a brand-new facility could comply with the pollution standards the ordinance would impose.

But there are facts the flyer leaves out: The Wheelabrator incinerator is Baltimore’s chief industrial source of pollution including lead, mercury, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde. City Council members and residents say they fear the facility is contributing to unusually high levels of asthma and other respiratory diseases in Baltimore.

Proposals to crack down on the Wheelabrator Baltimore trash incinerator, the city's largest single source of air pollution, are gaining momentum. A majority of lawmakers in the City Council and Maryland General Assembly support the environmental measures, citing government climate change reports.

On its website, Clean Air Baltimore has fact-checked Wheelabrator’s flyer, including suggesting that the EPA’s endorsement of incinerators is flawed. The group suggests that by increasing recycling rates, the city can lessen any impact if the incinerator were to close. And, it says, the city should be moving away from waste incineration, anyway.

What’s next?

The City Council is scheduled to take a preliminary vote on the bill Monday night. If it passes, it could come up for a final vote as soon as Feb. 11.

City Council members are also scheduled to meet with city finance officials behind closed doors Friday to discuss the potential costs of the legislation.


How can I weigh in?

Both opponents and proponents are urging residents to share their thoughts with City Council by calling council President Jack Young’s office at 410-396-4804 or emailing CouncilPresident@baltimorecity.gov.