Controversy is heating up over the $180 million-plus trash-gasification plant Cleveland wants to build — but has no clue how to pay for — at its Ridge Road transfer station on the West Side.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to review particulars of the plant, which would turn city garbage into a synthetic gas that could be used to produce about 7 percent of Cleveland Public Power’s electricity, all of which it currently must buy from other sources. The Ohio EPA has issued a preliminary permit for the gasifier and could sign off on final approval by spring.
One problem: The city-operated Cleveland Division of Air Quality Control has been mostly responsible for reviewing the plans for the Ohio EPA so far, and it’s also responsible for fielding public comments and objections.
“The City of Cleveland does a great job, but they need to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest,” says Chris Trepal, executive director of the Earth Day Coalition, one of the groups seeking federal input on the plant. “We don’t have the resources, the engineering knowledge, to evaluate it, because it is the first of its kind in the country.”
Environmental groups, along with Congressman Dennis Kucinich, are also asking the U.S. EPA to give the project an “Environmental Justice” designation, which would subject it to additional scrutiny for its proposed location in a mostly low-income, minority neighborhood. Kucinich also intends to take other concerns voiced by nearly 300 residents at an Ohio EPA hearing Monday to the U.S. EPA. They are asking for more time for public comment and more information on projected emissions.
“I’m on this,” Kucinich says, with the swagger of a man who would look nothing like Dennis Kucinich if this ever ends up becoming a movie. “I’m totally disgusted with how this process has been conducted. The community has not been engaged.”
The deadline to submit comments to Cleveland Air Quality Control is January 23 — and that goes for the U.S. EPA too, says Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles.
Rest assured, they won’t be ready: “We have received no guidance from the U.S. EPA on how to do anything differently if there is an Environmental Justice designation,” says Settles.