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.