[Note: originally published in the Delaware State News]
Alan Muller, Green Delaware
Many readers already know that Delaware recycles very little residential waste (around 2-15 percent, depending on who’s counting. The “Recycle Delaware” drop off centers are mostly a feel-good program.). Many don’t know how the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) avoids recycling and even harasses people who advocate it. The story of the DSWA is one of arrogant disregard for public opinion, human health, and common sense. As you read this story, remember that the real problem lies with the Governor(s) who have appointed so many misguided and unqualified people to the Authority.
A DSWA Board of Directors Meeting
On March 2, 1998, a room full of people, many from New Jersey, attended a meeting of the Board of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA). They were worried about a DSWA scheme: to burn Delaware garbage in Pennsville, NJ, just across the river from the failed garbage incinerator near Pigeon Point (New Castle), DE (Connectiv [Delmarva Power] was also a party to this scheme.) Here is how the Board reacted:
They refused to hear from the public until AFTER voting on all the items on their agenda. Chair Richard Pryor, a former head of Catholic Charities, said comments should have been made at a meeting the week before in another county. The board then set a three minute limit to public comments. After objections, Pryor said the limit was aimed at a specific person, not the visitors from New Jersey. The board adjourned before seven o’clock, while people still had hands up asking to comment. Sharon Findlayson, Chair of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, tried to comment on behalf of the ninety thousand members of her organization. Findlayson has been to hundreds of public meetings and said she had never seen one run with such contempt for the public.
Board members denied any special interest in the NJ incinerator. Then, they admitted paying for nine staff and board members to attend a two day promotional meeting about it at a resort in Cape May. (I also attended.) They claimed to have a “fiduciary responsibility” to send garbage to the cheapest incinerator, although they say they won’t use cheaper out-of-state LANDFILLs for environmental reasons. They blamed Green Delaware and others for the expensive, polluting failures of their incineration and composting projects. For instance, Pryor admitted that operations at Pigeon Point had “stunk people out of their homes,” but blamed the community itself.
DSWA “Waste Forums”
On April 15, 1998, the DSWA held a “Waste Symposium,” co-sponsored by the University of Delaware and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). No members of the communities directly effected by DSWA facilities and decisions were invited, and the event was structured to prevent public participation–all questions were screened. (Green Delaware wrote to the sponsors before the meeting, asking that communities be included. All refused, saying the views of “those people” were “not relevant.”) The forum “moderator,” Professor Ron Mersky of Wiedner University, began by saying he didn’t believe in recycling and doesn’t do it himself. He later boasted of having chaired the committee responsible for siting a giant garbage incinerator in Chester City, PA, contributing to a public health disaster in that city. (The DSWA has sent hundreds of thousands of tons of trash to Chester without inquiring into the effects on the community, or even seeking an environmental audit of the facility.) At the meeting, University of Delaware police followed this writer around, demanding to search my bag and threatening that I could be “incarcerated” if I attempted to participate in the meeting. An out-of-state visitor commented “In New Jersey, the public would have been allowed to speak.”
Another bogus “Recycling Forum,” with the same cast of characters, was held on April 21 of this year, with the same cast of characters. The repellent Professor Mersky gave a presentation suggesting that Delaware is doing TOO MUCH recycling and should landfill more bottles rather than recycle them. Another honored guest said “incinerators are great,” and don’t threaten peoples’ health. Jake Kreshtool, longtime clean air activist, was denied an opportunity to respond. The public was not allowed to speak. University of Delaware Police were on hand to ensure that no gagged citizen held up a sign or banner. The DNREC again ignored Green Delaware’s objections to DNREC’s sponsoring a meeting at which the public was silenced. “It’s about control” said Andrea Cramer of Shipley Associates, who organized the meeting for the DSWA. (Sam Shipley is a former head of the Delaware Democratic Party.) At this meeting Governor “Pollution” Carper signed an Executive Order setting up an “Citizens’ Work Group on Recycling.” Need it be said say that no one from Green Delaware was included?)
DSWA Censors “Public Comment”
On Nov. 19, 1998, the DSWA held a “workshop” to “take public comment” on revisions to its plans. I testified that no DSWA Board members represent communities impacted by DSWA facilities, and that some have conflicts of interest. Tom Houska, DSWA planning manager, said he would not allow this testimony and told the court reporter to stop recording. N.C. Vasuki, CEO of the DSWA, later defended Houska’s actions, claiming such testimony was “personal and abusive.”
Misinforming Delaware’s Kids
For many years DSWA has pumped out misleading information. Thousands of school children have been given the impression that the maximum feasible recycling is already being done in Delaware and that incinerators aren’t a health hazard. People are told that trash is “converted into electricity,” although a moment’s thought indicates that only nuclear reactions could begin to do this.
Delaware Can do Better
These aren’t just the antics of amusing cranks: the DSWA does real harm to peoples’ health, pocketbooks, and quality of life. In 1997 a large delegation from Chester PA, where New Castle County garbage was being burned, came to Wilmington to protest Delaware’s contribution to their health problems. (Children have high blood lead levels, all ages have many respiratory problems, and so on.) They stuffed Gov. Carper’s Wilmington office with green bags to show their appreciation for our contribution to their problems. After Salem County NJ banned the Pennsville incinerator (Delaware and New Jersey activists worked hard together on this) the DSWA began threatening to rebuild their dirty old polluter at Pigeon Point. Busy people then had to give time and energy to pass Senate Bill 98, banning incineration in Delawares Coastal Zone. It will never end with Vasuki at the helm..
The DSWA cries out for reform: Scandal and absurdity will prevail until people with better judgement manage Delaware’s garbage. The trash industry is “deregulating” following a Supreme Court decision that killed the DSWA’s monopoly on handling Delaware municipal waste. In this new situation, the one obvious remaining role for the DSWA is to organize and support curbside recycling programs throughout Delaware. This seems to be the one think that Mr. Pryor and Mr. Vasuki refuse to do. They should be replaced, and Delaware law should be changed to set mandatory, progressive goals for waste reduction and recycling, and to ban garbage incineration throughout the state. A recycling-oriented Solid Waste Authority could help Delaware build a sustainable future. Let your leaders know you want real recycling for a healthy future. (Green Delaware will offer more detailed proposals in a future article.)
Alan Muller is coordinator of Green Delaware, an organization concerned with environmental and public health issues in Delaware and nearby states.