New York Mayor Unveils Environmental Plan on Earth Day 2015

The nation’s biggest city, under the direction of Mayor Bill de Blasio, marked Earth Day on Wednesday by linking a sweeping effort to limit its impact on the environment with its fight against income inequality by pledging to lift more than 800,000 people out of poverty.

WIH Resource Group Mayor of NYC Earth Day 2015

De Blasio unveiled his ambitious OneNYC plan as a comprehensive strategy to improve New Yorkers’ lives by providing affordable housing, shortening commute times and preserving the environment.

“The way forward is to create a vision for one city where there’s opportunity for all, sustainability for all and fairness for all,” de Blasio said. “So many people who have fought for economic justice have also fought for environmental justice because these challenges go hand in hand.”

The waste reduction proposal — first reported Tuesday by The Associated Press — is central to the plan. New York, home to about 8.5 million residents, aims to reduce its waste output by 90 percent by 2030 from its 2005 level. The plan, the biggest undertaken by a city in the Western Hemisphere, would eliminate more than 3 million tons of garbage by overhauling the city’s recycling program, offering incentives to reduce waste and embracing the City Council’s plan to dramatically reduce the use of plastic shopping bags.

The waste reduction plan is part of an update to the sustainability project created by de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. But even changing its name from PlaNYC to the loftier OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, which invokes de Blasio’s campaign promise to combat the “tale of two cities” created by income inequality, makes clear that the updated plan would grow in scope.

The mayor pledged to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near poverty in the next decade, one of the largest anti-poverty efforts in the nation’s history. De Blasio said it would “change the reality of this city.”

He also reiterated his lofty housing goals — he aims to create 500,000 units of affordable housing by 2040 — and said he wants to end racial and ethnic disparities in premature mortality. He pledged to explore new capital expenditures — including the feasibility of a new subway line to serve central Brooklyn — to improve the city’s aging infrastructure and to reduce the average New Yorker’s commuting time to 45 minutes.

But de Blasio declined to discuss the cost — or source of funding — for the projects, saying much of that would be revealed in next month’s budget presentation.

Some resiliency advocates applauded the lofty goals, but others, including Jordan Levine of the New York League of Conservation Voters, chided the plan for not providing specifics on funding and warned that “implementation is where rubber meets the road.”

For decades, the city’s trash has been exported to South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or upstate New York. The amount of waste produced by the city has fallen 14 percent since 2005 because of an increase in recycling, and a key component of the plan is to bolster that output by simplifying the process and consolidating all recycling into one bin by 2020.

Organics — such as food scraps and yard waste — make up nearly a third of the city’s residential waste stream. A program to collect that material directly from residents’ homes is expanding to nearly 200,000 residents by year’s end, and city officials want to serve every home by the end of 2018. The city also will offer economic incentives to participate, including potentially a property tax rebate for homeowners.

The city also aims to reduce commercial waste by 90 percent by 2030 by adopting a program that could mean tax incentives for participating businesses and fines for nonparticipants.

The de Blasio administration stopped short of endorsing a City Council bill that proposes a 10-cent fee on plastic bags, but officials said that reducing their use is a priority and that they would coordinate efforts with the council.

SOURCE: WIH Resource Group & US News & World Report

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Largest Environmental Bankruptcy in U.S. History Will Result in Payment of $1.79 Billion towards Environmental Cleanup & Restoration – WIH Resource Group

Largest recovery of money for hazardous waste clean up ever.

As a result of the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, $1.79 billion has been paid to fund environmental cleanup and restoration under a bankruptcy reorganization of American Smelting and Refining Company LLC (ASARCO), the Justice Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture announced today. 

ASARCO is a leading producer of copper and one of the largest nonferrous metal producers in the United States. It is based in Arizona and is responsible for sites around the country that are contaminated with hazardous waste.

The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states.  Those states are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

“Today’s landmark enforcement settlement will provide almost one billion dollars to clean up polluted Superfund sites,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This will mean cleaner land, water and air for communities across the country.”

“The effort to recover this money was a collaborative and coordinated response by the states and federal government.  Our combined efforts have resulted in the largest recovery of funds to pay for past and future clean up of hazardous materials in the nation’s history.  Today is a historic day for the environment and the people affected across the country,” said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli.

“This settlement exemplifies government at all levels working effectively for the American taxpayer to recover damages from polluters and restore and protect important national landscapes and significant wildlife resources that have been injured,” said Interior Assistant Secretary Tom Strickland.  “In consultation and collaboration with our state and tribal co-trustees, this money will be used exclusively to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of resources injured at more than a dozen sites where ASARCO operated and we have identified natural resource damage.”  

“I would like to thank the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA Office of General Counsel for their diligence in reaching this comprehensive settlement that will so benefit restoration of public lands,” said Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief for the National Forest System, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture.  ”This settlement provides significant resources to address land restoration from past mining activities on National Forest System lands in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington.”

Under the terms of the plan, all allowed claims were paid in full along with interest.  Funds were distributed as follows:

The United States received approximately $776 million, which will be distributed in accordance with the underlying settlements to address 35 different sites;

The Coeur d’Alene Work Trust was paid $436 million;

The three custodial trusts which address the owned but not operating properties of ASARCO and involve a total of 13 states and 24 sites were paid a cumulative total of approximately $261 million; and

Payments totaling in excess of $321 million were paid to 14 different states to fund environmental settlement obligations at 36 individual sites.

In total, the payment will address environmental cleanup and restoration at more than 80 sites around the country.  Much of the money paid to the United States will be placed in special accounts in the Superfund to be used by EPA to pay for future cleanup work.  It will also be placed into accounts at the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to pay for natural resource restoration.

ASARCO filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code on Aug. 9, 2005.  American Smelting and Refining Company or ASARCO has operated for nearly 110 years—first as a holding company for diverse smelting, refining, and mining operations throughout the United States and now as the Arizona-based integrated copper-mining, smelting, and refining company.

By the time it filed for bankruptcy, ASARCO’s core operating assets were limited to certain operations in the states of Arizona and Texas.  However, it continued to own numerous non-operating properties that were highly contaminated and was subject to environmental claims at sites that were not owned by the company.

In August 2009, following lengthy litigation, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas held a two-week hearing on competing plans of reorganization for ASARCO that would allow the company to be purchased out of bankruptcy.  During this hearing, two competing plans emerged that proposed to pay creditors in full with interest.   

On Aug. 31, 2009, Judge Richard Schmidt of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi issued a recommendation to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to confirm the plan proposed by ASARCO’s parent company—a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.  U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville accepted Judge Schmidt’s recommendation and confirmed Grupo Mexico’s plan on Nov. 13, 2009.

On Dec. 9, 2009, Grupo Mexico met its funding obligations and the plan was consummated.  Additionally, the environmental payment and property transfer obligations outlined in the numerous settlement agreements, which had been approved by the bankruptcy court over the course of the litigation, were complied with. 

The full payment of environmental claims, plus interest, will facilitate the cleanup of contamination and restoration of natural resources at numerous sites across the country.  The reorganized company remains liable for environmental liabilities at the properties that it will continue to own and operate.

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Sources: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and WIH Resource Group

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Waste Coalition Lawsuit Seeks to Overturn Unconstitutional Cap on Solano County Trash Imports

A coalition of more than twenty waste hauling and recycling companies filed a lawsuit in federal court today seeking to declare invalid a local Solano County ballot initiative believed to be unconstitutional by coalition members and Solano County leaders.

“More than twenty years ago Solano County leaders recognized that this ordinance restricting movement of waste across county lines is illegal under federal law, and the coalition is seeking to secure a court ruling to put this issue to rest,” said Ron Mittelstaedt, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Waste Connections, Inc. “Measure E threatens the future of safe, efficient and environmentally sound management of regional municipal solid waste. The consequences for Solano County taxpayers could include an annual loss of over $3,000,000 to fund vital local services such as public safety, local road maintenance and environmental compliance,” Mittelstaedt concluded.

The coalition`s complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, challenges as unconstitutional the 1984 measure that imposed an annual cap of 95,000 tons – a small fraction of current waste volumes – on the amount of solid waste that may enter Solano County from other jurisdictions for landfill disposal. The initiative, known as “Measure E,” was approved by Solano County voters nearly twenty-five years ago in the November 6, 1984 election.

Solano County has never enforced Measure E, and issued a memorandum concluding that the 1984 initiative is unconstitutional under United States Supreme Court precedent. Measure E discriminates against out-of-county waste, in violation of the United States Constitution`s protection of free movement of interstate commerce. Measure E does not impose limits on the disposal of in-county waste at Solano County landfills. The Legislative Counsel of California reached the same conclusion, writing in a 1992 Opinion that “Measure E, adopted by the voters of
Solano County, violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”

The coalition points in particular to the potential impacts of Measure E on the Potrero Hills Landfill, which is vital to satisfying the Bay Area`s solid waste disposal needs. If Measure E is enforced, communities across Northern California will pay much higher prices for waste disposal as they search for alternative sites across California and in neighboring states, according to the coalition`s Complaint. Measure E also undercuts a federal court order that the U.S.

Department of Justice and California Attorney General Jerry Brown obtained earlier this year directing that the Potrero Hills Landfill be sold to maintain competition in the solid waste industry in Northern California.

The coalition is filing suit in Federal court to ratify the County`s longstanding belief in the unconstitutionality of Measure E in response to
special interest groups and local activists seeking to compel enforcement of Measure E in order to drastically limit the Landfill`s capacity.

Mittelstaedt added that “Northern California`s waste hauling companies stand united in taking legal action to protect our customers, who have long depended on the unfettered movement of waste across county and state lines. No county is an island and we must all work together to allow waste to move freely to efficient, state of the art, and environmentally sound landfills such as Potrero Hills.”

The coalition members bringing suit represent much of the waste hauling and recycling industry in Northern California, including Potrero Hills Landfill, BLT Enterprises of Sacramento, Brentwood Disposal Service, Concord Disposal Service, Contra Costa Waste Service, Discovery Bay Disposal, El Dorado Disposal Service, Novato Disposal Service, Oakley Disposal Service, Pacific Coast Disposal Corporation, Pittsburg Disposal and Debris Box Service, Redwood Empire Disposal, Rio Vista Sanitation Service, Rohnert Park Disposal, Santa Rosa Recycling and Collection, Sunrise Garbage Service, Timber Cove Recycling, Waste Connections, West Sonoma County Disposal Service, West Sonoma County Transfer and Windsor Refuse and Recycling.

Sources: Waste Connections, Solano County, California, and WIH Resource Group

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Debate on Clean Energy Leads to Regional Divide

While most lawmakers accept that more renewable energy is needed on the nation’s grid, the debate over the giant climate-change and energy bill now before Congress is exposing a fundamental rift.  For many players, the energy not only has to be clean and free of carbon-dioxide emissions, it also has to be generated nearby.

The division has set off a fight between Eastern and Midwestern politicians and grid officials over parts of the bill dealing with transmission lines and solar and wind energy. Many officials, including President Obama, say that the grid is antiquated and that thousands of miles of new power lines are needed to allow construction of wind farms and solar fields in the most promising spots. Many of the best wind sites are in the Midwest, far from the electric load in populous East Coast cities.

An influential coalition of East Coast governors and power companies fears that building wind and solar sites in the Midwest would cause their region to miss out on jobs and other economic benefits. The coalition is therefore trying to block a mandate for transcontinental lines.

They want the wind farms built in rural New England and offshore from Massachusetts to Delaware, and for now it appears that they may get a chance to do that. They are campaigning to keep a provision out of the legislation that would mandate a huge super-high-voltage grid, with the cost spread among millions of electric customers.

“While we support the development of wind resources for the United States wherever they exist,” the governors warned in a May 4 letter to House and Senate leaders, “this ratepayer-funded revenue guarantee for land-based wind and other generation resources in the Great Plains would have significant, negative consequences for our region.”

Dan W. Reicher, an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration who now leads energy initiatives at Google, said the debate exposed a conundrum. “The areas with the most attractive renewable energy resources often don’t overlap with the places where the push for job creation is strongest,” Mr. Reicher said.

For example, a wind machine in North Dakota would produce more energy than the same machine in some Eastern states — but energy projects tend to get built in places where they are most wanted.

The East Coast advocates may have won a crucial first round. When the House passed its sweeping energy and climate-change bill on June 26, it included a provision that lets the federal government overrule state objections to new power lines — but only west of the Rockies. Western states would be unlikely to oppose the new power lines in any case: the region has long been accustomed to huge generation projects built at a great distance from load centers.

But the bill would not give the federal government a mandate to overrule the Eastern states on transmission lines. The issue will be on the table again as the Senate takes up the bill in the next few weeks.

A two-year effort by transmission authorities in the eastern half of the country to draw up plans for a strong grid collapsed after grid officials in New York and New England pulled out, saying that the plans were too centered on moving Midwestern energy eastward.

In an interview, Ian A. Bowles, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said he questioned “whether or not we need national transmission legislation at all.”

Mr. Bowles suggested that all Congress needed to do was impose a cap on carbon-dioxide emissions and mandate a national renewable energy quota. Then the market could determine whether resources should be in distant spots with long transmission lines or places closer to load centers, he said.

The debate echoes others in past years about whether to build conventional power plants locally or build stronger connections to distant conventional plants.

The governors’ concern, said James B. Robb, a senior vice president of Northeast Utilities, was not only the optimal cost and use of the electricity but also “any fringes that come along with it — the local tax base, local employment, all those kinds of things.”

For years, some planners have talked about a grid powerful enough to allow for “postage-stamp rates,” transmission charges that are small and independent of distance, so that power will be produced wherever it is most economical, even if that is half a continent away from where it is needed. But for local economic reasons some people resisted that idea, even in the days before tapping wind on the plains and sun in the desert became a national goal.

And a weak grid helps some electric companies. Local generators have often been able to charge more by being in the right place at the right time, with no competition because the long-distance lines are already fully loaded, experts say.

“When you have a constrained transmission system and you seek to unconstrain it,” said Mary Ellen Paravalos, the vice president for transmission at National Grid, a New York and New England company, some local parties stand to lose. This is true “even if the wider societal benefit is net positive,” Ms. Paravalos said.

Complicating the debate, many proposed power lines that could carry renewable energy to market could also end up carrying coal-fired power. An improved national grid would end the situation that prevails at many hours in the East today, when coal plants that can produce power cheaply sit idle while cleaner natural gas plants are running full tilt, able to sell their more expensive power because grid traffic is so bad that the coal power cannot reach the market.

That configuration costs consumers money but also reduces emissions of the carbon-dioxide emissions that cause climate change. So contrary to expectations, one effect of a stronger grid, although ardently sought by supporters of renewable energy, could be to push costs down but nudge coal-fired emissions up.

But the basic conflict remains distant energy versus local energy.

“Some states dealing with this issue see it not only as an environmental and least-cost-supply question but also as a potential economic development tool,” said Branko Terzic, a former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates some power lines.

Mr. Terzic added, “Those three goals are not always concurrent and could be in conflict.”

Source: New York Times

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New York City – Town of Smithtown NY Chooses CNG to Cut Refuse Collection Costs

Faced with rising refuse collection costs, the Town of Smithtown, New York, decided to require its refuse collection contractors to use compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks. It was the first New York municipality to institute such a requirement. On January 1, 2007, the 30 contractor-owned diesel refuse trucks collecting solid waste and recyclables from the town’s 116,000 residents were replaced by 22 CNG models.

Smithtown selected four bidders for seven-year contracts: Brothers Carting, Dejana Industries, Jody Industries, and V. Garafalo Carting. The companies were responsible for buying the new CNG trucks. To offset the higher cost for these trucks versus diesel trucks, the companies had the option of claiming the Federal Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit for up to 80% of the incremental cost. An alliance of local organizations helped the contractors find financing options.

To establish CNG fueling infrastructure, Smithtown partnered with natural gas supplier Clean Energy. With no leasing agreements, access fees, or capital outlay for Smithtown, the contract required Clean Energy to provide the fueling infrastructure and commission local service providers. Because of Smithtown’s new contract with the refuse collectors, Clean Energy had to complete the fueling station in six months–two to four months faster than it usually takes to locate a station, obtain permits, and secure a compressor.

To accomplish this, Clean Energy received permission from the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT) and Office of General Services to allow expansion of a station in nearby Hauppauge, which Clean Energy already operated for New York State. The Hauppauge expansion supported NYDOT’s goal to increase natural gas use as a vehicle fuel and brought additional revenue to the state of $0.05 per gasoline gallon equivalent. Clean Energy expanded the Hauppauge volumetric gas flow rate from 15 to 2,000 scfm and opened the station within four months.Smithtown entered into an agreement on fuel pricing with Clean Energy through 2013. CNG costs for the refuse trucks started at $2.33 per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) through 2008 and increase each year to conclude at $2.94 per DGE in 2013. The contracted CNG price could decrease if the price differential between diesel and CNG goes above a set threshold.

“Controlling refuse collection costs for town residents was the primary reason Smithtown chose CNG,” explained the coordinator of the Greater Long Island Clean Cities Coalition. “The commitment from Clean Energy to set a stable fuel price was very important.” Switching to CNG provides environmental and energy-security benefits for Smithtown.

The CNG refuse trucks are projected over the life of the contract to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by 265 tons and particulate matter by 15 tons. Smithtown also expects to displace more than 1.5 million DGE of petroleum-based fuel.The benefits are amplified when other towns adopt a similar strategy. Smithtown’s success inspired nearby Brookhaven to plan the deployment of 67 CNG trucks in 2009 in a similar effort.

Clean Cities inspired Smithtown’s move to CNG. In May 2006, Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s Environmental Protection Director, saw a Clean Cities alternative fuel presentation at the Federation of New York Solid Waste Associations Solid Waste/Recycling Conference & Trade Show in Bolton Landing, New York. The presentation persuaded him that CNG was the best choice for Smithtown’s refuse fleet. For more information, contact Russell Barnett.

Source: United States Department of Energy (DOE)

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City of Oahu Hawaii Aims to Block Off-Island Waste Export Plan

The head of a private trash hauler said his company is ready to ship O’ahu’s garbage to Washington state, with or without the approval of the Hannemann administration.

Hawaiian Waste Systems LLC chief executive Jim Hodge said he’s arranged with “more than one” local trash company to take their garbage for a price cheaper than the city’s landfill tipping fee. His company would then bale, shrink-wrap and ship the trash to the Port of Longview, about 40 miles north of Portland, Ore.

“Our facility is up and ready,” Hodge said, insisting that he has done everything necessary to start operations, including investing $10 million for a facility at Campbell Industrial Park. If Hawaiian Waste secures a contract with the city, “we will commit our private system to the city system and it’s always been our intent to do that,” he said.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann and other city officials, however, believe Hawaiian Waste needs city approval to proceed.

A resolution designed to clarify the situation by authorizing a private trash haulerto ship up to 150,000 tons of solid waste out of state “without challenge or other impediment from the city” was deferred 7-1 by the City Council yesterday after strong objections raised by city Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger.

“Our main concern is this (resolution) does surrender the city’s right to flow control for a period of time,” Steinberger said. “That has financial impacts.”

Lost tipping fees

The city could lose as much as $12 million annually in lost tipping fees, which are generated when private haulers dispose of their garbage with the city, he said. More important, he said, the administration is worried it will lose control over how much trash is being shipped off-island, which could hinder its ability to provide enough solid waste under its contract with the HPOWER waste-to-energy plant.

If Hawaiian Waste moves forward with shipping trash off-island without city approval, “the city would very likely have to pursue legal action with the support of (the) council,” Steinberger said.

Hawaiian Waste was the low bidder for a city contract last year to ship trash off-island but city purchasing officials determined the bid was “non-responsive” to concerns that were raised. Hawaiian Waste’s appeal of that decision was denied by the city. Hodge insists his company did what it was told, and is now appealing the decision to the state Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.

free market

City Council members are split on the resolution to support off-island shipping, a measure introduced by Council Chairman Todd Apo.

Apo said that despite arguing about the potential loss of revenue from tipping fees, the city has neglected to point out that it will need to spend less in disposing the trash on its own.

Councilman Nestor Garcia said he’s worried about the fiscal impacts of shipping trash off-island, not just in terms of tipping fees but the revenues lost from not being able to sell energy that trash might otherwise generate at HPOWER.

But Councilman Charles Djou said he believes in the free market process and that “there’s no reason for the government to step in and interfere” with what Hawaiian Waste is trying to accomplish. Djou accused colleagues of being “addicted” to the revenues generated by tipping fees.

Despite Hodge’s claim that he is able to find private haulers to provide Hawaiian Waste trash, not all local waste companies support its efforts.

Greg Apa, a senior vice president with Honolulu Disposal Services, testified that the economic downturn has resulted in a 20 to 30 percent drop in business. Allowing trash to be shipped off-island is going to make it difficult for his company, the largest private hauler in the state, to maintain contracts and would stifle the momentum of the city’s curbside recycling program, Apa said

Source:  Honolulu Advertiser

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