A SPECIAL REPORT MAY, 2013
THE INCINERATOR AND THE FAILURE OF DEMOCRACY
On May 2, 2013, the PA Department of Environmental Protection held a Hearing to allow citizens to respond to its permitting National Gypsum and En-Tire Logistics to build a tire burning incinerator in White Deer Township. About seventy-five people attended, and almost all of them who spoke opposed the incinerator and the way it had been permitted. Many complained that the rules of that game were stacked against the opponents: five minutes per person; eleven days to respond with a letter to the DEP decision; and, most unfair of all, that OUE’s expert witness, Prof. Sherri Mason, was not allowed to speak at all beyond five minutes.
During the next few days, the local press ran several stories about this event (the most informative of them in the Milton Standard Journal, from which all the quotes below are taken).
Two days after the hearing came the good news that local politicians were pressuring the DEP to extend from eleven to ninety days the period during which citizens could take a closer look at the approved application. As long standing opponents of this burner, we were of course glad that local elected officials had actually paid any attention at all to this burner.
We will describe here how the officials avoided the fact of the burner on the horizon and why we think they waited so long. We will explain why we see them as failing to act as political leaders in a genuine democracy by keeping quiet while two companies announced their plans to build a tire burning incinerator—one that will burn 100,000,000 pounds of tires per year. And this next part is hard to believe and even to think about—one and a half miles from an elementary school, within a mile of a nursing home, and about 400 yards from the Susquehanna River.
To our knowledge, during the 20 months following the announcement by the companies of their incinerator plan, no public official in our area raised in public a single question about the potential dangers of this burner. That pathetic outcome was the result of the protracted silence of three township supervisors, three county commissioners, two state representatives, and one U.S. congressman, the latter more concerned with Jay-Z and Beyonce going to Cuba than that the incinerator was waltzing it way through the DEP.
How did this happen? We can provide a tentative answer because some of these officials for the first time have made public statements about the burner after the May 2 Hearing. First of all, there is the comment by Commissioner John Showers, as reported to the Standard Journal on May 3 (and we are going assume his comments represented the judgment of the other two commissioners and his economic planner). Showers was quoted as saying that at that Hearing, “for the first time, he saw some of the details of the plant and understood the suspicions of the citizens on hand.” The only thing we can conclude about that statement is that the ignorance of the commissioners about this application was a collective choice. In fact, in the spring and summer of 2012 the OUE Board exchanged letters with these commissioners in which we urged them to work with us to have at least two public discussions of the burner. We also sent the Commissioners OUE newsletters that described in some detail the nature of the burner and why we opposed it. One of these newsletters also mentioned our hope to join with them to hold public discussions.
Later on, and without informing OUE, the Commissioners invited the DEP air quality team to use the County’s building to have an information session, but apparently they were ignored. As it turns out, in our exchange with the Commissioners, we realized that they were confused about some details about the status of the company’s application and on July 9, 2012, we offered to provide them a copy of the application for their consideration. Our files and our memory of events had long ago convinced us that the Union County Commissioners had decided to stay mum about the burner, and to our minds that is a quite reasonable explanation for John Showers’ comment that it was not until May 2, 2013, that he learned why so many citizens were worried about a burner that had been in the making for the previous two years.
Another official quoted after the Hearing was White Deer Township Supervisor Carroll Diefenbach. He was “dismayed by the behavior of some of the citizens,” and especially those from OUE. It is hard to know what to make of Mr. Diefenbach’s comments. He and the other Supervisors actually gave National Gypsum a permit to build the burner back in May, 2010, and they also apparently decided to keep quiet about it. But now, he’s figured out that the real culprits in the story are those upset citizens loudly complaining, in part, about being kept ignorant by public officials. It seems utterly lost on him that one thing citizens were in fact outraged about is that many were OUE members who worked hard to educate the public about the burner precisely because Mr. Diefenbach did not adequately do his own job. Likely, the most mannerly thing we can say is that Mr. Diefenbach is somewhat confused about this whole issue, and we are probably better off that he did not try to educate us about it.
Another White Deer Township Supervisor, Larry Siebert, gave us more evidence about why our democracy is sinking into the sand. He told the reporter that the Supervisors had “preliminary meetings” with company officials prior to the hearing, “but the questions of the Supervisors were unanswered.” One only has to think for a moment to see how deeply democracy is eroded when it gets to the point that township Supervisors conclude a meeting with such company officials whom they let get away while still leaving their questions “unanswered.”
Regarding Representative Keller, he did connect OUE to a big time tire dealer whom we visited and learned from. Yet, Rep. Keller, too, has stayed to the side, and we would have all benefited from any public discussions he might have scheduled. What he says now is something else with apparent meaning: he wants “to make sure all concerns are addressed, prior to any consideration for approval.” Unfortunately for him, the application that contains all the concerns is hundreds of pages long, filled with technical language for experts. Thus, to “make sure all concerns are addressed” commits him to a goal that will likely take him much of his life to realize that he can’t achieve it.
This flow of events described here reveals a thoroughly anti-democratic process by which two big corporations are about to impose on you and me a huge, dangerous machine, knowing that they can rely on the silence of our political representatives and on the politicians here and in Washington who have forced the DEP to be a pathetic “Rubber Stamp.” The extent to which citizens were denied the dignity of free citizens was symbolized perfectly by the DEP spokesman, Dan Spadoni, who told the citizens where to sign in to speak, when to come to the podium, when to start and when to stop talking, and when to sit back down, ordering all these people around even though no one there or anywhere had voted for him to have power to do anything.
Yet, there is potentially a very happy ending to this story. Now that they have decided to take a look at the company’s application and its claims, we can hope that our political leaders will be able to see how out of place that burner is in White Deer Township. They might even come to realize how absolutely crazy—truly demented– it is to put that big burner close to a school simply to allow National Gypsum to make bigger profits.
And, let’s make our dream even rosier by imagining that these politicians will come to see this madness for what it is and join with us in telling National Gypsum and En-Tire Logistics to go build their big ugly burner in their own back yards.
OUE (Organizations United for the Environment), is a grassroots organization now in its third decade, and had its earliest roots in the spring of 1942 when, through a particularly crude form of eminent domain, the United States government seized 8,500 acres of land in the Central Susquehanna Valley. OUE, like its fellow grassroots environmental organizations, is trying to cope with the spoliation of the earth by the human community, doing what it can to keep clean its own small part of the whole. It’s members believe its history is worth knowing because it demonstrates without question that if you’re not ready to fight the polluters and the government officials who inevitably shill for them you’re going to end up with all the wastes.
Raging Chicken Press- Wendy Lynne Lee - Read all about the conditions of things in Sunbury. They really couldn’t get much worse. Moran and Persing and Clean Harbors are destroying the lives of the residents in Sunbury.
Raging Chicken Press – Wendy Lynne Lee 2 - Invitation from The Center for Rural Pennsylvania to Bloomsburg University to Join the Ranks of Frack-U
Raging Chicken Press – Sean Kitchen - BREAKING NEWS: Environmental Felon Michael Krancer Stepping Down from PA Dept. of Environmental Protection
Raging Chicken Press – Wendy Lynne Lee 3 – Kinder Morgan Energy Partners: A “New” Rumpelstiltskin Tries to Cash in on the Last Gasp of Industrialized Extraction
Find out where the money goes to and comes from where the gas companies are concerned and who benefits the most.
OUE meetings are the first evening of every month at Mondragon Bookstore, 111 Market Street, Lewisburg, Pa at 7:00 pm in the upstairs meeting room. Everyone is urged to attend. We look forward to hearing and sharing your concerns.