According to a federal complaint by an environmental organization, state officials are threatening the health of vulnerable residents.
Four of the plants can be found in Tampa Bay: two in Hillsborough County, one Pinellas County, and one Pasco. The plants are found in predominantly Hispanic and Black neighborhoods throughout the state, according to census data. The two Hillsborough facilities are located within majority-minority areas, whereas the Pasco or Pinellas plants are not.
Waste-to-energy plants burn food, textiles, and other household waste to generate electricity. According to a study, 20 percent of Florida’s municipal waste can be incinerated for electricity production. 2018 Industry Report.
It is a renewable source of energy that reduces carbon emissions from fossil-fuels and curbs methane formation from landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency. Critics say that the state ignores the negative effects technology has on the physical and environmental health of the surrounding communities.
It is the most harmful form of energy and it poisons communities, stated Dominique Burkhardt, an attorney at the Florida office Earthjustice, which filed the complaint. It is a complete lie to call it a green energy facility.
According to the EPA, garbage burning can cause cancer, respiratory, and reproductive health risks, as well as increased risk of death and other health effects. The federal environmental officials received the complaint on Thursday. It is accused of being one of most polluting forms for electricity production, thereby exacerbated the climate crisis and poisoning communities.
According to a report, incinerators can produce 2.5 times more greenhouse gases than coal-fired power plants. 2021 Earthjustice report. It stated that they emit up to 18x more lead and 14x more mercury, as well as elevated levels of other harmful emissions.
The complaint stated that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection did no consider environmental justice and demographic factors when deciding where plants should go. Many waste-to-energy plants are located in majority-minority areas, as a result.
A Hillsborough County spokesperson stated that officials need to review the complaint in order to comment. A request for comment was not received from the state or the three Tampa Bay municipalities Pasco County and Pinellas County that manage the other facilities. The facilities are:
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- Pasco County Resource Recovery Facility. 14230 Hays Road in Shady Hill.
- Hillsborough County Resource Recovery Facility at 350 N Falkenburg Road in Tampa
- McKay Bay Refuse to Energy Facility, 114 S 34th St. Tampa
- Pinellas County Resource Recovery Facility. 3001 110th Ave. N. St. Petersburg.
Census data shows that seven of the state’s 10 facilities are in areas with a higher-than-average number of non-white residents, and five of them have a higher-than-average number of non-English speakers.
According to the complaint, this is a violation Title VI of Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or nationality in federal programs that receive federal funds.
Federal regulators state that Black and Hispanic residents have higher rates for diabetes, respiratory disease, and hypertension. This makes them more vulnerable to the side effects from pollution.
The complaint stated that eight facilities are located in areas where there are high numbers of elderly residents or young children. These children are particularly vulnerable to the smoke and chemicals from burning garbage, another violation of federal protections against discrimination based on age.
The complaint centers on a waste to energy plant in Doral, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood 15 miles west of Miami. Earthjustice records show that nearly 3,000 people called a hotline complaining of sickening odors around the plant since January 2016. Many people call the Miami-Dade County Resources Recovery Facility by their name. It is owned by Covanta Energy.
Covanta prides themselves on being a good neighbour to communities across the country, according to a statement from Covanta. The county-owned facility has been located in Doral for many decades. South Florida has grown around it. The company asked further questions of the Florida counties that run the plants.
Burkhardt stated that the renewal of the operating permit for the plant was an opportunity for the community to make its complaints to state regulators. She said that state officials had already made their decision.
Officials from the state said that they are currently reviewing the complaint and will ensure that the community’s concerns regarding the Doral facility are heard as they consider whether to renew its permit. A statement from the department stated that DEP will not issue any permit if it is not in the best interests of Florida’s environment and does no meet all requirements under Florida law.
Burkhardt stated that Hastings Read, deputy Director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protections Air Division denied her requests for a certified interpreter for non English-speaking residents. She told her that the permit was available.
Burkhardt stated that he found it so disrespectful. Residents in the community have been following the incinerator’s progress for years, and they do extensive research to educate themselves. But the DEP (expected residents), said: I live near the fire and it smells terrible.
The Environmental Protection Agency is asked to intervene in the permitting process, withholding non-essential funds from the state environmental agency if it fails to comply with federal anti-discrimination law.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.