Thursday, December 20, 2007

Litigation and disposal fees

In the last few days there have been news stories (like this and this and this reporting that the 70 Mid-Connecticut Project towns will be getting their shares of $35.9 million awarded to them by a Superior Court judge as a result of New Hartford v. CRRA.

For the most part, reporters have done a good job of trying to understand this case and then distill it into the limited space they have to tell their stories. One of the beauties of a blog like this is that we’re freed of space restrictions, so we can fully explain some of the points touched on briefly in the news coverage.

The main point that needs more detailed explanation today is the relationship between this lawsuit and our disposal fee -– the price we charge municipalities and haulers for disposing of trash they collect. More to the point, we’d like to explain how the $35.9 million award would be used to benefit those 70 cities and towns.

CRRA is completely self-funded. Our trash-to-energy projects have to cover all their costs with revenue from just two sources -– electric sales and trash disposal fees. Our electric revenues are fixed with multi-year contracts, so the only variable we can adjust from year to year is the disposal fee.

When our costs drop, our disposal fee drops. When our costs increase, we must increase our disposal fee to cover those costs. And in fiscal year 2009 (which starts July 1, 2008), our Mid-Connecticut Project’s costs are going to increase substantially due to the closure of the Hartford landfill. Take a look at this graph:

What you see here is a breakdown of costs associated with closing the Hartford landfill. The Mid-Connecticut Project has used the Hartford landfill since the 1980s, so the Project, and by extension its towns, is responsible for closing it properly. By December 2008, the Hartford landfill will reach its permitted capacity, so CRRA will have to close it with a geosynthetic cap, then pay for 30 years of post-closure monitoring and maintenance. Our latest figures show the closure and post-closure costs will run between $40 million and $45 million. That is represented by the turquoise segments of the bars on this graph.

Currently, the landfill accepts ash, which is a by-product of trash-to-energy, and non-processible waste – material that can’t be burned to generate electricity. When the landfill closes, we’ll have to truck all that material to another site, most likely a privately-owned landfill in another state, and those costs are represented by the violet and cream-colored segments of the bars on the graph.

Right now, all those costs add up to about $112 million.

So what does this have to do with New Hartford v. CRRA? The money awarded to the Mid-Connecticut Project towns -– and it’s important to note none of the other CRRA projects was impacted at all by either the Enron bankruptcy or this litigation -– was money CRRA had been holding in reserve to help pay for those costs. But with that $35.9 million gone (until we prevail in our appeal, which we expect to do) we have almost nothing in the bank. This graph compares our reserves to those future costs:

You may be wondering what kind of difference $35.9 million would make against $112 million in costs. CRRA still is pursuing lawsuits against 11 banks involved in the Enron transaction, and we believe those actions will bring us tens of millions more dollars.

Those lawsuits, by the way, are a primary reason for our appealing the New Hartford ruling. That ruling contains language which would seriously damage our cases against those banks, so if we didn’t appeal we’d be leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table, all of which would be used to absorb these increasing costs.

The bottom line is this: the towns will receive money through this lawsuit, but they’ll be paying it back in higher disposal fees. If we still had those reserves, they’d be used to offset these cost increases.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Educational programs for businesses?

Jenny wrote:

“Are there programs at either the Hartford or Stratford museums targeted at teaching business people about waste reduction and diversion?”

Good question. Each year the Trash Museum in Hartford and the Garbage Museum in Stratford teach more than 50,000 people – mostly school-age children – the five R’s of solid waste, namely “reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and rethink.” We don’t have any programs specifically for business people, but if your company is interested we could certainly modify one of our existing programs to work with an adult audience.

To find out more, call Sotoria Montanari, our education supervisor, at (860) 757-7764.

And if there's something you'd like to know or have an idea for CRRA, send an e-mail to crrainfo(at) -- just make sure you put the word "CRRABlog" in your subject line.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Junk science and scare tactics

Recently we’ve come across a couple of instances where self-styled environmentalists cherry-pick facts and use junk science in an attempt to needlessly scare people about trash-to-energy. There is an abundance of air emission data in the public domain. Depending on what one wants to show, one can choose data sets to suit one’s purpose.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s Title V Emissions Inventory collects data on criteria pollutants. Criteria pollutants are a group of air pollutants that can cause smog, acid rain and adverse health effects. The six criteria pollutants about which DEP gathers information are nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (which can form ozone), sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and lead. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established National Ambient Air Quality Standards for each of the criteria pollutants. Connecticut is in attainment with all of these except for ozone and parts of Connecticut are not in attainment of the standard for fine particulates.

There were six industrial sources of criteria pollutants given in the 2003 Title V Emission Inventory for the City of Hartford. CRRA’s Mid-Connecticut facility is the largest of these and accounts for the largest share of these emissions, mostly nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. The Mid-Connecticut Project trash-to-energy facility is in compliance with all provisions of its state and federal air permits and all applicable air regulations and standards. This facility is regularly inspected by DEP and has an excellent record of environmental performance and safety.

Click here for results of emissions tests of all CRRA trash-to-energy facilities dating back to 2001. See for yourself.

It must be noted that there are many other sources of air pollution in Hartford such as the hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks that use I-91, I-84 and the streets of the city every day. There are numerous businesses whose air emissions fall below the Title V reporting threshold. These sources do not show up at all in the DEP’s Title V Emissions Inventory.

Looking at the same 2003 Title V Emission inventory for the City of Bridgeport shows four industrial sources of criteria pollutants. CRRA’s Bridgeport facility accounts for less than 20 percent of these. Once again, this facility is in full compliance with all applicable emissions limits. Meanwhile, I-95, spanning the breadth of Fairfield County, is one of the most congested freeways in the United States.

While criteria pollutants are a concern, the EPA has designated over 650 toxic chemicals for reporting under the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). Facilities who deal in large quantities of these toxic chemicals are required to annually report their releases to the environment. In 2005, the latest year for which Toxic Release Inventory data is available, 1,266,576 pounds (633 tons) of these were released to the environment in Hartford County alone by 95 different facilities. These chemicals include aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals. CRRA’s Mid-Connecticut RRF is not responsible for a single pound of these toxic releases.

A similar picture is seen in Bridgeport. In 2005, the latest year for which Toxic Release Inventory data is available, 618,859 pounds (309 tons) of these were released to the environment in Fairfield County alone by 65 different facilities. These chemicals include aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals. CRRA’s Bridgeport RRF is not responsible for a single pound of these toxic releases.

There are many ways to look at air emissions. Looking at sources within a particular city’s limits makes little sense when a breeze can carry pollutants across borders. Typically, environmental professionals speak of “airsheds,” larger areas that are subject to the same forces of pollutant transport, industrial activity and weather. Efforts to control nitrogen oxides are undertaken on a regional basis encompassing dozens of states in the eastern United States.

CRRA’s four trash-to-energy facilities serve a vital purpose by safely disposing of most of Connecticut’s solid waste while at the same time generating electricity that would otherwise come from imported oil. There are air emissions from these operations. They are carefully limited, lawfully permitted and continuously monitored. The alternative to WTE is landfilling garbage, which then decomposes into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Connecticut’s trash-to-energy facilities are an asset to the state that we can be proud of.

Click here to get the facts about Connecticut's trash-to-energy plants.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A question about electronics

Lauren asks:

Where can a business recycle electronics in Connecticut? Most electronics recycling companies only offer their services to residents.

Good question. CRRA holds a limited number of electronics recycling collections for residents of its participating towns. Since we instituted this program in 1999, we've kept more than 3 million pounds of old televisions, computer equipment, VCRs and other devices out of our trash-to-energy plants. We'll announce another series of collections in 2008.

Businesses pose a special challenge because, in many cases, even a small company might change out 15 or 20 computers all at once, but the good news is that more and more electronics companies are getting into recycling. You can find out some of them on CRRA's Web site.

By the way, this story in yesterday's Danbury News-Times doesn't pertain to our programs. CRRA's electronics go to a company called Amandi Services which has a disassembly facility in Pennsylvania. You can find out more about Amandi's electronics recycling process here. You'll be impressed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In the news

The Hartford Business Journal ran this story about the latest developments in New Hartford v. CRRA today.

Stories have also appeared in the New Haven Register and the Connecticut Post

Friday, November 16, 2007

Teaching kids who teach the world

There's a terrific story in this morning's New Haven Register about six-year-old Cole Johnson of East Haven who, according to the story, was "bitten by the recycling bug during a visit to the Children’s Garbage Museum adjacent to the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority’s recycling facility in Stratford."

Now he's trying to get his school to expand its recycling program. Way to go, Cole!

Each year CRRA's education centers teach more than 50,000 people how to protect their environment with recycling and environmentally responsible waste disposal. We've always believed that if we teach children about recycling, they'll go and teach the grownups, and here's more evidence of that.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A question about plastics

Michele from Wilton, Conn., writes:

I think your website is great - thanks for all of the information.

Why is it that only plastics #1 and #2 are accepted for recycling (So many food containers are #5 for example). Is there anywhere else to recycle the other numbered plastic items?

Also, if plastics with other numbers (like 5) are accidentally included in recycling are they seperated out somehow at your facility or at the town transfer station? If they are not seperated out do they contaminate the recycled matter?

This is a question CRRA hears frequently. The good news here is that people want to recycle more, but recycling is to a large extent driven by economics. We can take anything we want out of the waste stream, but unless someone wants it sooner or later it will wind up in the trash. At CRRA's recycling facilities in Hartford and Stratford, plastics #1 and #2 are sorted and baled for shipping to processors who turn them into new products -- #1 plastic is reformulated into fibers that are spun into fleece and carpeting, while #2 can be reformulated into a solid used in artificial lumber for playscapes and decks.

Processors pay for those plastics -- in many instances more than $300 a ton -- because they can be turned into new saleable materials. But the technology hasn't advanced to making recycling other types of plastics economically viable.

While we're on the subject of economics, CRRA has always provided its participating towns with free recycling (a substantial savings when compared to paying current fees of as much as $84 a ton for trash disposal) and now pays its Mid-Connecticut Project towns $10 a ton for all the recyclables they deliver to CRRA.

We can do this because of the revenue we receive from the sale of plastics and other materials such as paper, cardboard, steel and aluminum. There has been talk of expanding the bottle bill to include plastic water bottles, which are made of #1 plastic. Because the deposit system operates outside the established recycling program, CRRA would lose about $300,000 a year in plastic sales, hurting these important, convenient programs.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A word about our museums

This note came to us over the weekend:

I recently toured the CRRA facilities and found it fascinating! It has helped me as a teacher as well as personally. I learned so much from the tour and look forward to incorporating this information into my home as well as my Art room!


CRRA's Trash Museum in Hartford and Garbage Museum in Stratford offer behind-the-scenes looks at what happens to your recylables after they're picked up at the curb or from your town drop-off center. To find out more, click here. And thanks, Kristen, for your kind words!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Phil gets hot with Hot 93.7

Phillup D. Bag, CRRA's recycling expert, joined Sotoria Montanari and Paul Nonnenmacher of CRRA with the Hot 93.7 Morning Crew Thursday morning. Phil, Sotoria and Paul talked about recycling and the environment with dj Buck, Mary-B and Marv-Lo.

You can hear a podcast of their interview on this page at the Hot 93.7 Web site. The CRRA crew came on right after WWE superstar Batista's interview.

Thanks to Hot 93.7 for helping CRRA spread the word about recycling!

Did any of you catch the interview? What did you think?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

CRRA's Web site

At CRRA, we're pretty proud of our Web site. We believe it has everything anyone would want to know about CRRA, trash disposal, recycling and how they all work together to protect our environment. We think it helps us set a standard for openness and transparency among public agencies.

That doesn't mean we're satisfied with our Web presence. We're getting ready to do some modifications, but as we think through the possibilities, we'd like your ideas.

What would you like to see added or changed to our Web site?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New Hartford v. CRRA

The Waterbury Republican-American published this editorial on Wednesday, Oct. 24:

Towns should stop suing themselves

The class-action lawsuit pitting 70 Connecticut towns against the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority comes down to a loss of trust and the lawsuit industry's eagerness to exploit conflict. Little good is likely to come of it.

CRRA lost $220 million in making a fiscally and ethically dubious loan to now-defunct Enron Corp. The agency and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are trying to recover as much of that money as they can through litigation. The towns sued CRRA last year, claiming it should give them some of the money it has recovered because it double-dipped — covering its losses through tipping-fee increases while getting some of the money back in court.

CRRA officials say, correctly, the towns are suing themselves. That's because the $35.9 million they won in court ultimately will go back to the CRRA, either through successful appeals or further tipping-fee increases. Indeed, CRRA has prepared a chart that shows fees ranging from $69 to $80 per ton from 2008-13 if it wins the appeal, and from $86 to $89 from 2009-12 if it loses.

Perhaps even worse, if CRRA disburses the money to the towns and subsequently wins its appeal, the towns will have to give the money back — minus an unrecoverable $10 million to $12 million paid to lawyers.

But even that is not the worst of it. Those guarding the diminishing Enron stash will hold up the $35.9 million payment as evidence CRRA is not entitled to further damage claims.

CRRA is a quasi-public agency that exists to serve the towns by disposing of their trash and garbage. If CRRA and the towns trusted each other's motives and analysis, the lawsuit never would have been filed. In this respect, Superior Court Judge Dennis G. Eveleigh did no one (except the lawyers) any favors by imposing a months-long gag order on the parties that blocked any effort by either side to restore trust.

CRRA is right to fight this ruling to protect its own interests and those of its client towns. The towns' position is understandable; CRRA lost their trust the day the Enron loan went sour and won't get it back overnight. But it's no less true that both sides are destined to come out of this dispute a little lighter in the wallet thanks to the machinations of the lawsuit industry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Where does your garbage go?

A story in this morning's Hartford Courant includes a common misconception about Connecticut's garbage system:
Bags wind up in our landfills; in our oceans, killing sea life; and, as Alan Ball demonstrated in his 1999 film "American Beauty," in our streets and courtyards, circling like kites or bubbles in passing air currents.

Just about everything Connecticut residents throw away -- which we should do only if it can't be re-used or recycled -- winds up in a trash-to-energy plant. All that winds up in a landfill is the ash produced by combusting trash, and between recycling and trash-to-energy we reduce by 90 percent the amount of stuff we're actually landfilling.

Want to know more? Check our Web site or click here for a slide show on the trash-to-energy process. The slide show is a pretty large file so it will take some time to load, but we think you'll find it interesting.

How many of you are using the new re-usable grocery bags?

Thursday, October 4, 2007


A proposal by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for the Department of Public Utility Control to regulate garbage disposal continues to generate interest. For instance, it was the subject of this editorial in the Connecticut section of the New York Times on Sunday, Sept. 30, and there is more news coverage to come.

Attorney General Blumenthal announced his proposal after discussing the matter with a group of Fairfield County mayors and first selectmen, who explained to him that the operator of the Bridgeport trash-to-energy plant could have a de facto unregulated monopoly on trash disposal starting January 1, 2009, when it can take full control of the facility.

Read the Attorney General’s news release here.

Connecticut has six trash-to-energy plants that process about 90 percent of the state’s non-recycled garbage. Within 10 years, five of those plants could be completely under private control, meaning their owners could charge whatever they feel the market would bear.

Trash disposal is vital to protecting the environment and public health. It is an essential public service.

At the center of Blumenthal’s argument is the fact that there are no other disposal facilities in southwestern Connecticut, and it is apparent that no new trash-to-energy plants or solid waste landfills will be built in Connecticut, so towns in that part of the state will have two choices: do business with the Bridgeport plant or ship their trash by truck or rail to a landfill in Ohio or Pennsylvania or Virginia. CRRA has contended for years that relying on out-of-state facilities would mean the people of Connecticut would have no control over how their trash is disposed of (do other states have the same strict environmental safeguards as Connecticut?) or how much it would cost (could other states impose new taxes on out-of-state trash haulers? And what about the cost of diesel fuel?).

Adding trash disposal to DPUC’s list of responsibilities would require legislation. Such oversight would need to be managed within the towns’ flow-control rights as granted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Since 1988, CRRA has had a contract with Wheelabrator, which runs the Bridgeport plant, to take garbage from 18 CRRA member cities and towns in southwestern Connecticut. When that contract expires, on December 31, 2008, the plant ownership will transfer to Wheelabrator. Unless we negotiate a new or extended renewal agreement with Wheelabrator, the plant will be Wheelabrator’s to use as it pleases.

CRRA is in good-faith negotiations with Wheelabrator, and a successful resolution of those negotiations – a long-term contract at a below-market price – is our goal and our preference. Further, we are optimistic about reaching an agreement in the next two or three months. The Attorney General’s proposal does not impact or interfere with CRRA’s initative to negotiate an agreement renewal. We are here to serve the towns’ best interests, and that long-term below-market contract we’re working toward would accomplish that mission.

We do need to clarify a couple of misconceptions that have arisen in the press coverage of this proposal:
• First, some of the press accounts seemed to confuse disposal with hauling. A hauler – either your city or town or a private company – collects your trash at the curb and brings it to us for disposal. CRRA is not a hauler. The Attorney General has also called for stricter oversight of the hauling industry.
• Second, CRRA, contrary to one report, operates under plenty of oversight. Our Board of Directors – mainly mayors and first selectmen of cities and towns we serve – is appointed by the Governor and legislative leadership. And we will compare our record of openness and transparency with any other public entity.

We should point out that the Mid-Connecticut Project trash-to-energy facility in Hartford is owned by CRRA lock, stock and barrel, and barring any unforeseen circumstances it will be publicly owned permanently.

What do you think? Click on the word "comments" below to tell us.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New attraction at the Trash Museum

There’s a new attraction at the Trash Museum in Hartford that gives visitors an up-close look at CRRA’s state-of-the-art recycling processing center.

Nine closed-circuit television cameras feed video of various stages of the recycling processes to large monitors installed in the viewing area overlooking the processing center.

The new closed-circuit system was installed after the installation of new recycling equipment in the processing facility. Previously, visitors could clearly see the processes from the viewing area, but the new processing equipment doesn’t allow the same sight lines.

On a split-screen monitor, viewers can see the action of the recycling processing from each of the nine cameras. Conveyor belts, plastic optic sorting, paper screeners and bales of each commodity are examples of the new sorting technology. Additionally, there is on-going truck traffic where recyclables are dumped onto the tipping floor and then pushed onto a conveyor belt by a payloader.

The new camera exhibit offers a variety of features that enhance the educational experience of the groups. Educators leading tours can toggle through the images and zoom camera views in and out as on-lookers learn about the sorting process. A larger image may be projected onto the adjacent wall so that the process may be further explained. Placed over the mock bales in the museum are monitors displaying the sorting process of that particular commodity.

The Trash Museum is located at 211 Murphy Road in Hartford’s South Meadows. For contact information, directions and hours of operation, click on this link:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


At the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, we do everything we can to communicate with the people of Connecticut, and we have always encouraged people to communicate with us. Our Board of Directors meetings are open to the public and the first item of business is almost always public comment. We hold public meetings and presentations throughout the state and welcome questions from those in attendance.

But we know you can't always get to those meetings, and you may not be able to get through when we're on a radio or television talk show, so we're introducing CRRABlog (crab on top of a log -- get it?) as another means of stimulating dialogue between CRRA and the people we serve.

Here's how it's going to work: we'll tell you what we're thinking, then you tell us what you're thinking. We will moderate comments, but only to make sure nothing inappropriate or offensive is posted.