The Patrick administration has quietly altered a 23-year-old moratorium on new waste incinerators in Massachusetts. The move is drawing fire from environmentalists who say it's against the public interest.
The new 10-year Solid Waste Master Plan was released by the state on its website Tuesday. It deals with everything from household waste to demolition debris to recyclables. One provision modifies the decades-old ban on new facilities that burn waste.
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell says the goal is to develop high-tech facilities that turn waste into gas that can then be burned to create electricity.
"If you are promoting innovative, new technologies and you can prove that they perform better than conventional incinerators, we are going to allow people to at least come to the table and make that demonstration," Kimmell said.
Kimmell says the state is not technically lifting the moratorium because the "gasification" technology avoids directly burning the waste. But environmental and public interest groups are calling the administration's action a breach of faith.
Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group's Janet Domenitz says state officials ignored public opposition to lifting the moratorium, including some 14,000 comments urging its continuance.
"The people who incinerate are going to come out of the woodwork now," Domenitz said. "Because what the governor and the administration are saying, 'We're open for business for more burning.' So who knows where they'll pop up."
Domenitz and other members of a coalition called Don't Waste Massachusetts say the new rule would hamper efforts to improve recycling rates in the state by diverting recyclables to combustion plants. But Kimmell says most recyclables would be barred from the facilities, which would instead rely on waste that is hard to reuse.
"There are certain plastics that are not recyclable. There are certain paper products that are not recyclable. There's cardboard that might have food waste on it so that renders it not capable of being recycled," Kimmell said.
Some 350,000 tons of it, Kimmel says.
There is some support for the new plan from Taunton, where a waste-gasification project is on the table. And from the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which calls the plan a "modest" effort to help address the shrinking availability of landfill space in the state.
This program aired on May 8, 2013.