Sponsors oppose medical waste facility proposed on East Greenwich-West Warwick border
STATEHOUSE – Sen. Bridget Valverde and Rep. Justine Caldwell introduced joint legislation last week which would prohibit new, high-heat waste incineration facilities in Rhode Island.
The bill comes on the heels of outcry and concern from their local constituents, who in large part, have come out in strong opposition against a proposed medical waste facility on the border of East Greenwich and West Warwick.
MedRecycler Inc. hopes to open its waste-to-energy plant at 1600 Division Road, and if approved, plans to dispose of up to 70 tons of medical waste a day. By using a process known as pyrolysis, which indirectly heats the waste in the absence of oxygen, the material would be evaporated into syngas, rather than just burned.
Though the company claims this process is completely safe, many community members do not take any of these reassurances. Over the past several months, the proposed medical waste facility has been splashed across the headlines in East Greenwich and West Warwick, but legislators believe this is a cause for concern for every Rhode Islander.
“Our town has already had to spend a lot of time and money litigating this issue and we don’t want other communities to have to go through the same thing every time one of these facilities is proposed,” said Sen. Valverde (Dist. 35 – East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “If it’s East Greenwich and West Warwick today, it’ll be your community tomorrow.”
“We can’t open up Rhode Island to out-of-state developers who want to use our state to make a buck by bringing untested, carbon- and toxin-emitting facilities into our communities,” she added, noting that the developer of the proposed medical waste incineration plant has already spent thousands of dollars to lobby against the bill.
In addition to claims of the process being entirely safe, MedRecycler has also stated that the facility will “generate renewable energy equal to the amount required to power over one thousand homes every year, in an environmentally friendly way.”
Other draws of the facility, according to MedRecycler, is that it would help serve the needs of the Rhode Island medical community, and extend the life of the Central Landfill in Johnston, which is expected to reach capacity in 2034. It’s also expected to create new tax revenue for the town and the state – as well as anywhere from 20 to 30 jobs for local residents once completed.
Assembly, build out and continued maintenance of the facility is also expected to support up to 100 Rhode Island-based professional tradesmen, electricians and construction related jobs, according to MedRecycler.
If given all the greenlights to proceed forward, the facility would become the first and only medical waste pyrolysis facility in the world.
“There are so many unknowns involved in this proposal, all of which have the potential to critically endanger the surrounding communities and the environment,” said Rep. Caldwell (Dist. 30 – East Greenwich, West Greenwich). “Burning dangerous waste at high temperatures has obvious risks and it undermines our efforts to stop air pollution. We shouldn’t have to be fighting a proposal like this in 2021.”
“Of course our communities are against this outrageous proposal,” she continued. “It’s a type of facility that shouldn’t be allowed in this day and age. Our bill would ensure that it isn’t.”
The proposal drew hours of testimony opposing it during a recent Department of Environmental Management hearing on its solid waste facility license application, including many community members from East Greenwich and West Warwick, abutting businesses, environmental advocates and elected officials. Last month, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha called for the approval process to be suspended until the developer proves the technology is safe for the environment and public health.
“The regulatory process required in our state to approve facilities that emit pollutants into our environment has to be robust and complete to protect public health and the environment,” Neronha wrote in a letter to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. “In matters like these, involving untested technology, strict adherence to the regulatory scheme’s substantive requirements, and going beyond the minimum public input required, is absolutely critical.”
Some of the community members opposed to the medical waste facility have criticized the process for disposing of the waste, claiming pyrolysis is inefficient “green energy” because it takes so much energy to superheat the waste. They’ve also pointed out that it produces oil and tar byproducts along with emissions.
According to Kevin Budris of Conservation Law Foundation, who joined sponsors of the legislation during a press conference last week, “burning waste, in any form, is toxic and climate-damaging.”
“It does not matter if you call it incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, or so-called ‘advanced-recycling,’” Budris said. “All waste burning generates climate-damaging gases along with toxic pollutants like lead, mercury, and dioxins. If we are going to achieve the enforceable goals in the Act on Climate and protect Rhode Islanders from dangerous pollution, we need to reduce, divert, compost, and recycle—not burn—our waste.”
In the House, sponsored of the legislation include House Environment and Natural Resources Committee
Chairman David A. Bennett, House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Carol Hagan McEntee House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Patricia A. Serpa, Rep. Liana Cassar, and Rep. Kathy Fogarty, among others.
In the Senate, legislation sponsors include Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture Chairwoman Dawn Euer, Vice Chairwoman Alana DiMario, Senate Committee on Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller, Sen. Kendra Anderson and Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis – who represents Coventry, East Greenwich and West Greenwich – along with several others.