Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why Idaho Doesn't Need Any Waste/Biomass Incinerator

The following is in response to the Idaho House of Representatives House Concurrent Resolution No. 14 by the Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee.

Around the world and especially in the United States it has become government policy to use low income areas and indigenous land as sites for waste disposal (Beasly, 1990; Brook, 1998; Rees, 1992; Taliman, 1994; Angel, 1992; Bullard, 1994). This includes landfills, municipal waste incinerators, waste to energy plants and toxic/hazardous waste (Beasly, 1990; Rees, 1992; Greenberg, 1993).

“Because of their quasi-sovereign status, Native American reservations have become the ‘new’ targets of environmental threats, ranging from household garbage to hazardous and nuclear wastes.” Neal and Allen, 1996.

The State of Idaho contains many rural, low income, and indigenous communities. In recent years, several areas in Idaho have been approached by WTE, coal-fired, and other types of supposedly “renewable” energy companies. This past year, Magic Valley almost approved the building of a coal-fired plant, and several years ago the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho almost bought into the idea of building a WTE in Boundary County. Both places found their “alternative” energy ideas to be opposed by many local residents, and the disfavor and objection to these kinds of plants was loud, informed, and disapproving. Any county or city in Idaho that becomes convinced that the burning of coal, waste, and any other biomass is good for the community and, perhaps, good for the state, should examine the vast available evidence that shows these kinds of alternative are destructive to health, economics, and the environment.

All waste plants cause real estate values to fall dramatically, not only surrounding the plant but throughout the community. Real estate standards, policies and associations will all support this fact (Acks, 1995; Brion, 1988; Inhaber, 1992; Been, 1993). Property values all over this county will fall.

“The existence of nonhazardous waste products can also reduce the value of properties directly exposed to these wastes as well as surrounding properties. Similarly, proximity to properties involved with the disposal of non hazardous wastes including landfills, incinerators and sewage plants can cause property values to plunge….

Key outdoor pollutants are ozone, particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide. Outdoor pollutants can reduce property values by nominal amounts, or up by as much as 50%….

Water related… factors which might influence property values include 1: the loss of clean drinking water; 2: elimination of recreational benefits (swimming, fishing, and boating) for properties near bodies of water….

Tax Assessors and real estate tax courts have begun to recognize the effects of environmental damages upon property values.” (Acks, 1995)

In almost every case in the U.S. where a waste incinerator of any kind has been built, it has ended up costing taxpayers lots of money mostly in the form of hidden costs not made known to the public (Connett, 1998). Very few jobs are created by this huge economic investment and most of the money invested in the plant leaves the community (Connett, 1998; Ewall, 2000).

“Nicholas P. Heymann, an analyst with NatWest Securities Corp., said Westinghouse’s waste incinerators are running at far less than capacity…The industry also is suffering from too many incinerators and too little trash, which is pushing down prices. And incinerators carry high fixed costs, making it easy for them to fall into the red when their operating rates decline, Mr. Heymann said.” Wall Street Journal, “Westinghouse Sees 3rd Quarter Profit Falling 50% on Cleanup Unit Weakness,” Sept. 20, 1993.

Three plants which used EPI’s (Energy Products of Idaho) fluidized bed technology closed down due to lack of garbage and/or the prices of energy and biomass. These were located in areas with large populations: Tacoma, WA, LaCrosse, WI, and Chowchilla, CA. Their economic expense has been incredible (West BioEnergy, undated; Connett, 1993; Ewall, 2000).

From August 11, 1993. Northern States Power, La Crosse, WI, says it “can’t fill half the capacity of an incinerator built there in 1988.” Wall Street Journal.

“Tacoma Steam Plant No. 2…on April 22, 1998…was placed into reserve shutdown….The supply of RDF, the demand for power, and prices available in the secondary energy market have determined operating levels at the plant. In 1997 and 1998, the price of electric energy in the Tacoma market was generally less than 1 cent/kWh. A biomass/waste-fueled plant cannot produce power at these low prices unless the fuels command substantial tipping fees.” West BioEnergy, undated.

“Originally four plants were developed by CAPCO Energy, started up in 1988 through 1990, were bought by the present owners in July 1992, and shut down in March 1995, after negotiating a buyout agreement with PG&E. Chowchilla I has been sold and dismantled. Chowchilla II, El Nido, and Madera remain in operable condition. The owners are soliciting offers for these plants, to be sold on an ‘as is, where is’ basis….During the early 1990s, natural gas prices collapsed, and biomass fuel prices doubled or tripled in California. The cost of power from biomass facilities was well above the market price of energy in the utilities systems. In October 1993, PG&E asked the owners to curtail operations. …on March 1, 1995 [the] plants were shut down and are being continuously maintained while being offered for sale. In the three years following April 1994, 16 biomass power plants in California, rated collectively at more than 200 MW, accepted buyout offers and shut down.” West BioEnergy, undated.

Often, the plants that have closed attempt to recoup losses by selling the basic incinerator structure to naïve communities who think they need a waste incinerator. This was the case in Boundary County.

In both rural and urban areas, the traffic itself will tear up the highways with a seemingly endless passage of trucks to the incinerator site. The plant, itself, will be noisy, it will smell, and usually you’ll be able to see the ugly stacks from the highway.

Someone’s beautiful backyard will become a garbage dump. Needless to say, this will not do much for tourism or growth. But that’s not all.

Although the U.S. has been negligent with its health studies in areas with waste to energy incinerators, the European Community and the World Health Organization have not. Every waste to energy incinerator has air emissions that escape, and these emissions contain dioxins (Connett, 1998; Ewall, 2000; Pope, 1999).

“All municipal waste burning incinerators are major contributors to airborne dioxin. These incinerators are the main source of human exposure to this cancer-causing toxin because the dioxin deposits on fields and moves up the food chain where it concentrates in dairy products and beef.” Barry Commoner, cited in the LaCrosse Tribune, April 3, 2001.

Dioxins are a known human carcinogen (World Health Organization, 1998; Ewall, 2000; Huang and Buekens, 1995).

“Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) constitute a group of persistent environmental chemicals. A number of dioxin or furan congeners, as well as some co-planar PCBs have been shown to exert a number of toxic responses similar to those of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), the most toxic dioxin. These effects include dermal toxicity, immunotoxicity, reproductive effects and teratogenicity, endocrine disruption and carcinogenicity.” Executive Summary, World Health Organization, 1998.

Even if the emissions meet EPA standards for daily emissions, that is not good enough because dioxins are accumulative: once in your body they never leave, they just build up over time. Not only do they stay in the human body, they also remain and build up in your alfalfa fields, your wheat fields, your dairy cows, your beef cattle, your pets, and your children.

“Dioxins are toxic, persistent in the environment and they are bioaccumulative, i.e., they build up in the tissues of animals and humans alike.” Allsopp, Costner, and Johnson, 2001.

“…studies have shown that high levels of dioxins are present in soils near to some incinerators. In many instances, they have also shown that the level of dioxin found in soil and vegetation is dependent upon the distance from the incinerator, a phenomenon which implicates incinerators as a primary source of the contamination.” Allsopp, Costner and Johnson, 2001.

“Cattle that graze in areas subject to air deposition of pollutants, such as dioxins, can ingest the pollutants that have been deposited on vegetation and soils. Dioxins can subsequently be passed to their milk, and hence, ultimately to humans. This is because elimination via milk is a major route of excretion of dioxins in cow’s milk (Baldassarri et al. 1994). Research conducted in several countries during the 1990’s has demonstrated elevated levels of dioxins in cow’s milk from farms near to incinerators.” Allsopp, Costner, and Johnson, 2001.

And they produce hideous cancers, birth defects, and mutations (World Health Organization, 1998; Allsopp, Costner and Johnson, 2001; Connett, 1998). In Europe, dairy and other farms have been closed down because of the buildup of dioxins (Connett, 1998). The people affected most directly by dioxins in waste incinerators are the employees themselves:

Incinerator operators and maintenance workers, and those involved in the collection, transport, and disposal of fly ash and emission control equipment residues, have the potential to be most exposed to toxic substances associated with incineration….incinerator workers have been exposed to high concentrations of dioxins and toxic metals, particularly lead, cadmium, and mercury” (National Resource Council, 2000).

Although most of this information pertains to waste-to-energy plants, all of this should be taken into consideration when the offer of a biomass plant comes to an Idaho community. First of all, just the term “biomass” itself can mean a number of different materials from sewer sludge to wood to landfill materials. The U.S. Department of Energy Biomass Power Glossary defines biomass:

Organic matter available on a renewable basis. Biomass includes forest and mill residues, agricultural crops and wastes, wood and wood wastes, animal wastes, livestock operation residues, aquatic plants, fast-growing trees and plants, and municipal and industrial wastes.

Secondly, each of these materials included in the definition contains its own set of problems, for example, burning wood is not very efficient on a large scale level, therefore these plants often depend upon other sources such as natural gas, as at the Kettle Falls, WA 50 megawatt wood-burning incinerator (Personal Communication, Kettle Falls Plant Manager). In applying for FERC permits, many companies go for the permit which also allows the burning of other kinds of waste, including tires, landfill waste, etc., because these burn at higher and more constant temperatures, thus making the energy producing plant more efficient (Ewell, 2000). Needless to say, it also makes the plant that much more polluting, unhealthy, and economically bad for local communities.

Other sources of biomass incineration also have problems. Much wood waste also contains paints, glues, plastic laminating materials, preservatives, formaldehyde, and other toxin producing substances (Ewell, 2000). Fast growing trees and plants are better off tilled into the soil, that is, if they haven’t been used at toxic sites in order to suck the toxins from the earth as a method of cleaning up those sites. The problems go on and on and without a thorough examination of the potential plant, ignorance and naiveté could very well destroy what we all value so much in the state of Idaho: clean air, clean water, forests, wildlife, and wilderness.

Finally, alternatives exist to incineration. In all honesty, I had never even considered anything as idealistic as “zero waste,” until an expert, Dr. Paul Connett, spoke to our small rural community. No, he wasn’t a highly paid, U of I guest: he came here at the request of those hundreds of people who didn’t want a WTE in this small, rural community. Staying with local people, he charged only for his airfare and one meal, because he is a committed activist in waste management. Dr. Connett’s presentations on incineration, and its alternative, zero waste, have been given in 49 states, 5 Canadian provinces, and over 44 countries. As a professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University, he has written many articles on dioxins, toxic waste, and waste management. He has also followed closely communities around the world that have committed to becoming zero-waste communities, including Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nelson, British Columbia, Alameda, California, Kamikatsu, Japan, several cities in the Philippines, and over 50% of the cities in New Zealand. Zero waste, and the reduction of global warming, are real possibilities. But they need an informed electorate and populace in order to become a reality.


Acks, Kenneth. 1995. “Valuation of environmental damages to real estate.”

Allsopp, Michelle, Pat Costner and Paul Johnson. 2001 “Incineration and human health.” Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter, UK.

Angel, Bradley. 1992. “The toxic threat to Indian lands: a Greenpeace report.” 17pp.

Baldassarri, L., A. Bocca, A. di Domenico, A. Fulgenzi, and N. Lacovella. 1994. “GC-MS isomer-specific determination of PCBs and some chlorinated pesticides in milk and cheese samples.” Organophalogen Compounds, 20: 221-224.

Beasly, Conger. 1990. “Of pollution and poverty: deadly threat on native lands.” Buzzworm, 2 (5): 39-45.

Been, Vicki. 1993. “What’s fairness go to do with it? Environmental justice and the siting of locally undesirable land uses.” Cornell University Law Review, v. 78: 1001-1085.

Brion, Denis J. 1988. “An essay on LULU, NIMBY, and the problem of distributive justice.“ Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, vol.15, n. 3-4 (Spring 1988): 437-503.

Brook, Daniel. 1998. “Environmental genocide: Native Americans and toxic waste.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology (AES), January, 1998: 105-113.

Bullard, Robert D. 1994. Dumping in Dixie: race, class and environmental quality. 2nd edition. Boulder: Westview Press.

Connett, Paul. 1998. “Municipal waste incineration: a poor solution for the twenty first century.” Paper presented at the 4th Annual International management Conference Waste-To-Energy.

Ewall, Mike. 2000. “The burning issues with Biomass.” Green Energy.

Greenberg, Michael R. 1993. “Proving environmental inequity in siting locally unwanted land uses.” Risk Issues In Health & Safety, 4: 235-252.

Huang, H. and A. Buekens. 1995. On the mechanisms of dioxin formation in combustion processes.” Chemosphere, 31 (9): 4099-4117.

Inhaber, Herbert. 1992. “Of LULU’s, NIMBY’s and NIMTOO’s.” Public Interest, n. 107: 52.

La Crosse Tribune. 2001. “News Release: Environmental group announces law suit against NSP incinerator for pollution violations.” La Crosse Tribune, April 3, 2001.

National Resource Council. 2000. “Waste incineration and public health.” Washington, D.C., National Academy Press.

Neal, Ruth and April Allen. 1998. “Environmental justice: an annotated bibliography.” Report Series, EJRC/CAU-1-96.

Pope, Kent. 1999. “Waste-to-energy: Europe’s landfill alternative.” Adams Business Media, Inc.

Rees, Matthew. 1992. “Black and green: race and environmentalism.” New Republic, 206 (9): 15-16.

Taliman, Valerie. 1994. “Saving native lands: one woman’s crusade against environmental racism.” Ms. Magazine, 4 (4): 28-29.

U.S. Department of Energy Biomass Power Glossary. http://bioenergy.ornl.gov/faqs/glossary.html.

Wall Street Journal. 1993. “Westinghouse sees 3rd quarter profit falling 50% on cleanup unit Weakness.” Wall Street Journal.

West BioEnergy. Undated. “Tacoma Steam Plant No. 2, Tacoma, Washington.”
---------- Undated. “San Joaquin Valley Energy Partners, Chowchilla, El Nido, and Madera, California.

World Health Organization. 1998. “Summary of the health of dioxins: re-evaluation of the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI).” World Health Organization Executive Summary. May 25-29, 1998, Geneva, Switzerland, WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, International Programme on Chemical Safety.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Information From The Front: State Legislators Visit North Idaho

I attended Sandpoint's "Pizza and Politics" last night. It was an interesting meeting with good questions, great input from Marie Scott, the Bonner County Clerk, and wonderful guests from around the state. Unfortunately pizza did not make an appearance, and the deep fried mozzarella sticks didn't come close.... Bonner Democrats, what were you thinking?

Our visiting state legislators included Wendy Jaquet (Rep. LD 25 AND House Minority Leader, George Saylor (Rep. LD 4 AND Assist. House Minority Leader), John Rusche (Rep. LD 7 AND House Minority Caucus Chair), Les Bock (Rep. LD 16), and Nicole LeFavour (Rep. LD 19). Speaking on various issues including transportation, mail-in voting, the grocery tax (wait until tonight for my husband's blog on this one....), property taxes, local politics, possible candidates for the 2008 election, and other issues as well, we about covered everyone's questions and concerns, and hopefully some of us walked away with empathy for a minority party in a red state with a bright red legislature. THIS HAS GOT TO CHANGE!

On that note, we also appreciated the presence and time of the IDP Chair, Richard Stallings, and his lovely wife, Renae. Richard addressed various issues, including possible candidates for various potential openings in 2008, positions that Democrats might be able to take from the Republicans, and national politics in terms of its relation to Idaho. He voiced great appreciation for Howard Dean and his 50-state strategy for which I'm grateful. I believe this strategy pushed us toward a beautiful shade of purple, and I'm still holding out for BLUE!

If the northern Idaho counties were blue, this would truly be a paradise. Locally, the Boundary County Dems are busy at work with our contribution basket for the Frank Church Banquet auction. Our basket represents some of the greatest aspects of our little neck of the woods. Several local artists contributed handmade cards, framed photos of the area, homemade jams, jellies, salsas, chutneys, cookies, all from locally grown or handpicked foods, a hand made picture frame, decorative moose, signed books about this area of Idaho, and the basket by renowned basket weaver, Diana Tombleson. All of these items depict part of the bounty of north Idaho: our huckleberries and other wild foods, locally farmed food, a variety of artists and photographers, local wildlife, history and more. Like I said, if we were BLUE we would be in paradise....

Okay, I've gone on long enough, but I have to relate how I made up for the lack of pizza, or any other delicious food, from last night. Today for dinner (1pm!) I made venison steaks, rubbed with thyme, garlic, salt and pepper, annointed with olive oil, and then set in the refrigerator for the morning. Later, I cooked up a wild rice/brown rice mix with dried chestnuts, cooked in homemade chicken broth. I threw together a salad of baby greens, Maytag blue cheese, and sliced blood oranges, then tossed it with locally made chive vinegar, olive oil and herbs. Finally, when everything else was ready, I sauteed the steaks in one of my trusty old cast-iron pans, three minutes per side for a nice pinky-red inside, then deglazed the pan with the delicious cabernet that accompanied the meal.

I tell ya, I'm talking a little bit of paradise in north Idaho!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

All we are saying is give peace a chance

I read in The Independent that Hillary Clinton is being "dogged by criticism of war stance." Hillary's response to questions about why she voted for the Iraq War often contain the answer that she voted based on the best intelligence at that time, or, if she had known then what she knows now she wouldn't have voted for going to war. Then she puts blame on Bush as a way of taking it off her. Excuse me, but how stupid does Hillary think that the American populace is? Or the world, for that matter.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in protest of going to war, on several occasions, before she even voted. Wikipedia, which I don't normally utilize, has an article about this filled with references, in particular individual news reports. Link here. Further summaries of the protests, especially the largest one on February 15, 2003 can be found at a number of sites, from CNN to Aljazeera. Remember, approximately 36 million people marched in protest of going to war with Iraq. Doesn't public opinion matter? Hillary's excuses are an insult to everyone who marched, and then some.

Furthermore, the internet was pretty much on fire with reports, news, opinions, and so forth, from individuals, other countries, soldier blogs, and even intelligence experts that all demonstrated to thousands of people around the world that Hussein did not have WMDs. Scott Ritter reported on numerous occasions that Hussein did not; Hussein, himself, invited US inspections in order to avoid an invasion; and even Joseph Wilson found the Bush administration's information flawed, seriously enough that someone in the Bush administration, with the help of prominent journalists, outed his wife as a CIA operative.

And Hillary repeatedly gives the lame excuse that she operated with the best intelligence at the time? This beggars the imagination!

At least John Edwards says that he made a mistake in voting for the Iraq War. Barack Obama has been against the war from the start. Kucinich actually took a stand and voted against it. Indeed, 23 senators voted against a war with Iraq. Did they have more intelligence than Hillary?

I am very tired of being treated like an idiot by politicians. My husband believes that "the corporations" have already picked Hillary as THE Democratic Candidate, but I disagree because I think that the grassroots of America have more power than the corporations. That might be very naive, but everywhere I hear complaints about corporations that are reminiscent of those that used to be leveled against big government. The corporations are so big and so corrupt that they will eventually have to implode, having lost every iota of moral responsibility towards the populace that allowed their growth in the first place.

I don't know who will be the Democratic candidate in 2008. I'd like Al Gore, but he seems to be caught up in a loftier pursuit. I think John Edwards is charismatic and appealing to both Democrats and Republicans, but I'm not sure how far he'll get because of the Democrats' puppy love for Barack Obama. Dennis Kucinich is steadfast, decent, smart, and unafraid of standing up for the truth, no matter the extent to which the mass media tries to portray him as the opposite. I'm not a fan of Chris Dodd or Joe Biden, and I don't know enough about Vilsack or Richardson to take a stand. I do hope, however, that Al Sharpton runs, because we need someone who can clean the air once in a while.

In the end, I'd love to see a woman elected as president even though I don't believe the country is ready for that. If it were, I'd rather have Barbara Boxer, the only person with the moral integrity and strength to stand up and contest the 2004 election results. I know what I, and many others, including Republicans, do not want: we do not want to choose between the lesser of two evils. Being put in such a position would set us back years. This election requires deep, reflective thought, an educated public, and a reformed mass media. The grassroots demands it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Am I blue?

Oh, I cannot believe that even more Republicans will be in north Idaho in June, 2008! Yes, how unfortunate that the "jewel of the north," our own "town of the arts," Sandoint, is playing host to the Idaho GOP state convention. Excuse me while I wring my hands! Local Sandpoint realtor, Dan Young, put it together and obviously it was slick enough to get Butchy-boy jumping in his tight jeans. So, over 400 Republicans from around the state will be crossing the Long Bridge to bring their greedy, big business, Wal-Mart corporate politics to north Idaho. I wonder if Gov Arnie will be visiting his Bonner County property during the big event. Maybe Dan will even be able to get him as a guest speaker. Of course if Larry Craig attends, perhaps he can find fellowship with all those local Republicans who also do not believe in global warming. Wait until it's 100 degrees that day.... Maybe he'll even take the Long Bridge plunge....

And the traffic on Hwy. 95 that day, whew, I may have to escape to Canada for a few days. Oh, it just dawned on me, they may not be able to fit all those people into hotels in Sandpoint which means, oh my God, that they may come up to Bonners Ferry. Horror of horrors! Then again, they may come anyway to see the biggest flag in Idaho. Yup, our county of various small income groups: the unemployed, retirees, independent small businesses, farmers, educators, and so forth, raised $50,000 for a flag that dwarfs everything in sight rather than putting it back into the social and economic infrastructure of a town which desperately needs that kind of money. Oh, but the Republicans will love the flag because it represents all the best of misplaced Republican patriotism and entertainment values, and none of the most important parts of people's lives like a working wage, family values, tolerance, universal health care and peace. Where oh where is the Democratic candidate who can save me from all this???

Maybe I'll be lucky enough to be at the Democratic Convention on those days. But I don't have an inkling about when or where that will be. I seem to know a lot more about the GOP and their events than any Democratic news since Republican news is published in our local papers while news sent from the IDP in Boise never seems to make it into the newspaper. Maybe that's why we democrats just haven't been able to quite push the Republicans off the political ledge. Of course, it's difficult when so many of the north Idaho papers are owned by Republicans, and that the only state newspaper we get is the Spokesman Review from Washington! So there we go... WANTED: DEMOCRATIC NEWSPAPER MOGUL to start or revive a true liberal left newspaper of record here in north Idaho. I'll subscribe!

Then to top it off, Red State Rebels, while checking up on recent news at Ridenbaugh Press, reports that a recent Gallup Poll Study shows that Idaho is the second most Republican state in the union. Horror of horrors, wring my hands, and gag me with a spoon (yes, I'm a Valley Girl), why should I even be surprised about this? Well, I'll tell you. In the last election, we Idaho Democrats made the Republicans spend $3 million in Idaho, Cheney had to visit twice, and given events like Al Gore's giant success in Boise, I think that many people in this state are ready for change. And change means electing Democrats. So, even though the poll statistics initially depress me, I'm more than ever determined to help Democratic candidates get elected.

Now if only Al Gore would present An Inconvenient Truth at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint during the Idaho GOP convention there in June 2008, I would be one truly happy camper, er, north Idaho Democrat. Or better yet, maybe he would visit north Idaho as part of a Presidential run. Oh, how sweet would that be... And I would be able to answer my own question: yes, I am Idaho Blue!

PS Mea culpa for the first posting as "this June," and thanks, John, for pointing that out to me.