Seven arrested in trash-to-energy plant protest at environment department headquarters

Seven people were arrested Tuesday during a protest of a trash-burning plant in South Baltimore.

Seven protesters were arrested Tuesday evening after refusing to leave the Maryland Department of the Environment headquarters, where they demanded that officials rescind a permit for a trash-burning power plant in South Baltimore.

The demonstration, which also included more than 100 protesters outside the building, was led by the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club and United Workers, groups opposed to the construction of the 160-megawatt facility on the Fairfield Peninsula.

Police did not release the identities of the seven arrested inside the building or their charges Tuesday night.

They contend that the Fairfield Renewable Energy Power Plant's emissions would pose health risks for residents of nearby Curtis Bay, which has the highest levels of toxic pollution in the state, and that the plant's construction has been stalled for more than a year, in violation of state permits. The plant's Albany, N.Y., owner, Energy Answers International, disputes both claims.

Company officials have said the plant would create 180 "green" jobs and meet or exceed air-quality requirements while generating power from burning shredded refuse, including trash, wood and tires. They say it is an environmentally friendly source of energy and a landfill alternative.

Energy Answers President and CEO Patrick F. Mahoney said the community has been included in planning the facility. He called suggestions it would be harmful or defy permits "misleading, irrational and not productive."

"Their facts are not accurate," he said. "I just don't understand the objective of the protest."

State regulators say the plant emissions would comply with emission limits.

State Environment Secretary Benjamin H. Grumbles met with some of the protesters Tuesday before the sit-in and arrests. The environment department wrote a letter last month to the company, asking for updates on the plant's construction, and is reviewing the company's response, a department spokesman said.

"The Department of the Environment deeply appreciates knowing the views of citizens and advocacy groups on this project," Grumbles said in a statement. "We are committed to following applicable laws and regulations and to ensuring permit conditions are respected and enforced."

Destiny Watford, 20, a Towson University student from Curtis Bay, said she was among the nine who were allowed inside the state environment agency's building at Montgomery Park. She said the protesters demanded that the state stop "the nation's largest trash-burning incinerator."

"The Maryland Department of the Environment has a really good opportunity and a really important choice to make right now," she said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

The Sun incorrectly identified the name of one of the protesting groups. It was led by the Sierra Club and United Workers. The last name of a Towson student who participated in the protest was also mispelled; her name is Destiny Watford.

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