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State plan to lift moratorium on trash incinerators eyed cautiously in Valley

In a Feb. 25 letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Narkewicz expressed his “very strong opposition” to the idea of allowing new trash burners because of their “detrimental effects on public health and environmental resources.”

On Tuesday, the state announced a plan to modify the moratorium on trash incinerators to allow burners that use “innovative and alternative technologies for converting municipal solid waste to energy or fuel on a limited basis,” according to a statement from the DEP.

State officials cited shrinking space in municipal landfills and the availablility of new burning technologies as key reasons for the change.

The moratorium on construction of new incinerators for “traditional combustion” of municipal solid waste will remain in place, the DEP said. Burners using alternative technologies such as gasification would be limited to 350,000 tons of waste per year. That is half the state’s projected shortfall in landfill capacity by 2020, according to the DEP.

Changes in the moratorium on trash burners were part of a final Solid Waste Master Plan the state released Tuesday for a 10-year period ending in 2020. The plan set a goal of reducing waste by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 in Massachusetts.

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Narkewicz said he had not had time to review the state plan or form an opinion about the alternative burning technologies it would allow.

“I would have to study what they’re saying,” he said. “I know the primary concern of the environmental community was on expanding the number of traditional incinerators.”

The Don’t Waste Massachusetts Coalition of environmental groups criticized the state’s decision on trash burners, calling it a move away from a promised “zero waste path.”

Lynn Pledger, solid waste director for Clean Water Action, a coalition member, said her group had logged nearly 14,0000 messages sent to the DEP opposing any change in the burner moratorium and only 11 in favor.

“The public has made it resoundingly clear that we don’t want more burning in Massachusetts,” Pledger said. “The state hasn’t supplied a model facility, a pilot or a report showing why we should do this.”

Pledger said incinerators recover only a small amount of energy from garbage while burning resources that could be recycled or composted instead.

“The state says keeping the moratorium will stifle innovation,” she added. “But why be innovative in destroying resources that we need?”

Eric Weiss, sustainability director for the Hampshire Council of Governments, was more pragmatic about the state’s decision, noting that there are incinerators now operating in Springfield and Dalton that turn trash into electricity.

“There’s a big debate about whether you consider burning trash as renewable energy,” Weiss said. “I would like to see what kind of technologies the state is talking about.”

He added that other aspects of the state’s final Solid Waste Master Plan are positive, including strategies to promote recycling and composting.

“They’ve put those things in the front of the line and that’s a good hierarchy to have,” said Weiss, who is also coordinator of the Hilltown Resource Management Cooperative. “I don’t mind looking at new technologies for trash burning as long as we are doing the right things first.”

The final Solid Waste Master Plan for 2010-2020 and the state’s response to comments received on a draft are available on the DEP’s website.

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