Today's Salem City Club program on the controversial Covanta garbage incinerator that handles Marion County trash was as disappointing as I and others expected it to be.
Back in January I criticized the City Club for making the program totally biased in a blog post called "Salem City Club sparks outrage with one-sided garbage burner program."
Last week I was included in email exchanges between environmentalists from the local chapter of 350.org and City Club members in charge of the garbage burner program. My sympathies then, as now, are with the environmentalists.
For after failing to have the Oregon legislature approve a bill in 2019 that would grant Renewable Energy Credits to Covanta, there's another effort underway in the upcoming 2020 short legislative session to pass a similar bill.
...So Marion County, which handles the Covanta contract and is overseen by an all-Republican Board of Commissioners who, so far as I know, are all global warming deniers (Sam Brentano definitely is), gets to use the February 21 City Club program to present a one-sided view of how wonderful the Covanta garbage burner is, and why renewable energy credits should be bestowed on the Covanta corporation.
This makes no sense to me, especially since February 21 is right in the middle of the February 3 - March 7 legislative session.
By not allowing an environmentalist like Andy Harris to be able to refute the claims of the Marion County representatives who will have the podium all to themselves, the Salem City Club has chosen to align itself with one-side of the Covanta garbage burner debate -- which happens to be the side that has the least scientific credibility, in my view.
Indeed, today's program turned out even worse than I thought it would be. I'd hoped that Cindy Condon, the City Club member who planned the program, would allow plenty of time for questions during the hour (12 pm to 1 pm) presentations normally last.
But two Marion County employees used up the entire hour, and then some, with what essentially was a infomercial for the Covanta garbage burner. Covanta, a giant corporation, is trying to get the Oregon legislature to bestow renewable energy tax credits on the burner, even though it seems clear that garbage isn't a renewable resource.
A few minutes after 1 pm, when people were starting to leave, a question and answer period started. I got to ask what I thought was an excellent probing question, given that Covanta has said that it may have to shut down the garbage burner if it doesn't get the tax credits.
Here's what I asked the Marion County officials:
A recent Statesman Journal story says that Covanta didn't respond to a state legislator's request for information about how much money the company is making from the incinerator. Do you know what Covanta's annual profit is on the Marion County garbage incinerator?
After some bureaucratic blather, the answer I got was: NO.
I was surprised that not only won't Covanta tell state legislators how much money they're making on the garbage burner that it owns, and which Marion County pays them to run, but either Covanta won't give Marion County officials this information either, or those officials don't want to find out the profit margin because it won't support their goal of getting the renewable energy tax credits.
Since Covanta had revenues of almost $2 billion in 2019, it's difficult to feel any sympathy for the company, especially since they're being so secretive about how much money they're making from the Marion County incinerator.
Check out an excellent Statesman Journal story by Tracy Loew about the garbage burner, "Marion County wants renewable energy status for burning trash as power revenue falls." That idea is opposed by many environmental groups in Oregon.
Many of Oregon's largest environmental groups have lined up in opposition to HB 4049, saying it defeats the purpose of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which is to create new investments in clean energy.
Opponents include the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Citizens' Utility Board, Oregon Environmental Council, Northwest Energy Coalition, Renewable Northwest, Oregon Chapter Sierra Club, Climate Solutions, Environment Oregon, Verde, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Beyond Toxics, 350 Salem, Clean Air Now Coalition, Zero Waste Oregon, Oregon Community Rights Network, and Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association.
"Renewable energy credits are meant to support new renewable energy projects, not an old, polluting facility from 1987," said Damon Motz-Storey, of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.
"Every dollar that would be spent giving a corporate handout to Covanta, a multinational company, would be a dollar not spent on clean technology, such as wind and solar energy projects that promote green, living-wage jobs and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels," Motz-Storey said.
Also, there was an excellent anti-garbage burner handout at the City Club registration desk prepared by the Clean Air Now Coalition. Have a read. I just wish opponents of the polluting garbage burner had been given an opportunity to present their side at the City Club meeting, which would have made for a much more accurate and informative program.