Green coalition gives the Clean Future Act a thumbs down over its waste-burning provision

Legislative Gazette file photo

More than 100 environmental justice groups and environmental organizations, led by Beyond Plastics and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives chapters in New York, New Jersey and across the country are calling for New York Congressmen Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., to remove “waste-to-energy” incineration from the CLEAN Future Act.

The legislation in question — the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act — looks to ensure that the United States acts aggressively to combat the climate crisis by this decade and achieve net zero greenhouse gas pollution. 

However, many advocates find the “waste-to-energy” incineration part of the bill undermines the environmental protections in the legislation and would set the country back from reaching its climate goals.

Rather than propping up a dying industry, the CLEAN Future Act should focus on solutions that move us away from a waste management approach that shackles communities to toxic, polluting facilities that harm health and impede economic growth,” said Denise Patel, program director for GAIA U.S. and Canada, a global alliance of grassroots groups opposed to waste burning.

Studies show that zero waste strategies score highest on environmental benefits and create the most jobs of any waste management approach, creating up to 200 times more jobs than waste disposal. Transitioning to zero waste systems and building true clean, renewable energy systems is clearly a win-win solution for the climate and the economy,” Patel continued.

WTE incinerators emit the same toxic emissions as ordinary incinerators that pose many health and environmental risks. The emissions from the WTE incinerators have been linked to increased asthma risks, reduced lung functions and greater likelihood of hospital admissions. Environmental justice is impacted as well as eight out of ten incinerators are located in low-income, Black, Brown and indigenous communities that feel the effects of pollution at an increased rate. 

The campaign to get WTE incinerators out of the bill was part of GAIA’s recent  Global Day of Action demanding that leaders around the world look to a future where zero waste practices drive clean air and water, more and better jobs, and a healthy environment for families and communities by using #BeyondRecovery.

“Burning garbage is not clean energy and it is disappointing that the Clean Future Act actually includes financial incentives to burn a portion of the waste stream. Not only do incinerators emit air pollution and generate a staggering amount of toxic ash that must be disposed of in special landfills, but they are also often sited in low-income communities and communities of color — a stark example of environmental racism,” said Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, a former EPA Regional Administrator and the former deputy secretary for the environment in the Governor’s Office.

“There are some very good solid waste provisions in this bill, but they are overshadowed by the pro-incineration provision which needs to go to ensure its efficacy,” Enck said.

Bill H.R.1512 was referred to the subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change by the committee on Energy and Commerce on Mar. 3.