Washington Post Reveals Covanta’s Slimy Lobbying Efforts


“As the Biden administration allocates billions of dollars in new climate subsidies, environmentally challenged industries are sharpening their green pitches. The companies argue they are just as entitled to lucrative federal incentives as solar farms or electric carmakers, and are working to frame their businesses as global warming solutions. The money up for grabs from the Inflation Reduction Act and other programs are in amounts large enough to guide whether they thrive or go the way of leaded gasoline and asbestos.

A quiet lobbying campaign by waste incineration operations is documented in emails disclosed through public records requests, filed by the nonprofit Friends of the Earth. They offer a glimpse at how one beleaguered legacy industry is maneuvering to qualify for these federal dollars, saying their plants can help stop climate change at the same time environmental justice groups in the communities they serve are trying to shut them down.

“How can this be a climate solution at all?” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, a Newark activist working to close the waste-to-energy plant there, and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “They are discharging mercury, arsenic, lead. I hope no one falls for this scam.”

Covanta, the incineration company that sent many of the emails, told The Washington Post that the timing of the EPA visit to a plant it operated until earlier this year was not meant to mislead regulators, but to plan for a routine yet dusty process during which plants are typically closed to tours.”

“The waste-to-energy industry is asking to be folded into a potential expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard program, a huge alternative fuels incentive that the EPA may modify to include producers of clean electricity that power electric vehicles. The companies that burn garbage are also eager to be certified as an energy provider for production of “green hydrogen,” a fuel that must be made with zero-carbon emissions electricity to fetch generous new subsidies.

It all hinges on regulators embracing the industry’s accounting methods for its carbon footprint.

“We are starting to push EPA and the White House,” said a February email from Paula Soos, head of government relations at Covanta Energy, which operates more than 30 U.S. plants where trash is burned to make electricity. She was writing Darwin Baas, the director of the public works department in Kent County, Mich., which has its own large incinerator. “This obviously would be a significant revenue stream to Kent [County] DPW,” Soos wrote.

Soos declined to be interviewed. But Baas and a Covanta spokesperson told The Post that it is too early to say how big that potential revenue stream is. Data in the records obtained by Friends of the Earth suggest the EPA subsidies could bring in more than $3 million annually for a similar plant in Pennsylvania.”

“In the shadow of the large waste-to-energy plant in Chester, Pa., a predominantly Black city, the air is heavy with an odor so foul that residents wear masks when they step out of their houses into the open air. Local activist Zulene Mayfield shows reporters the shell of a row home she said she abandoned when conditions on the perimeter of the 30-year-old plant became unbearable. Those who remain tick off the ailments they and their children are experiencing.

“This is dangerous,” said Darlynn Johnson, 40, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. Three of her four children, she said, have been diagnosed with asthma. The remaining child is 1 year old. “With him being out here, I know he is going to be diagnosed next,” Johnson said. “This is not okay.”

The health problems of the area, where children have asthma at five times the national average, are well documented, as are some of the harmful emissions that have come out of the plant over its lifetime. But the facility sits in an industrial hub, leaving researchers unable to link specific plants to clusters of disease. Covanta says pollution from the plant has been cut considerably over the years, and that its emissions are far below what federal standards allow.”

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