My Thoughts on the Delta Thermo Deal and Last Night’s City Council Meeting and What I Said There

I just got home from City Council.  I had to leave before the vote, but not before I waited 4 hours to share my thoughts with the public and with Council.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can learn about it here.  In the interest of time, I’m just going to post my thoughts as I shared them.  Some context:  you should know that there was a very large union presence at the meeting, so much so that before 7 PM the Council Chamber was packed out and people weren’t being let in.  It was at this point that some folks reached out to some local media, because it looked like the fairness, integrity (and possibly, legality) of the meeting was in jeopardy.  Thankfully, that got resolved (and the media was already there).  More context: the unions are strongly in support of the DTE project.  I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’m not.

What I ended up saying, in a nutshell, around 11 PM:

  • I live in Allentown, work in Allentown and pay taxes in Allentown.
  • I work for the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks, but I also sit on the Justice and Advocacy Committee of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches.  In both capacities, labor issues are extremely important.   The Justice and Advocacy Committee deals with issues of worker justice, livable wages, economic disparity, and I’m sympathetic to those concerns.
  • I was able to have a conference all today with Peter Crownfield (of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities LV) and permitting official with DEP.  That official explained to us that DTE does NOT have an air quality permit from the Commonwealth (they’ve used vague language to intimate that they do).  They DO have an exemption that pertains to research and development, not a commercial facility.  (Here I affirmed what Peter already said).
  • I talked about my discomfort with this and other transparency issues in this process.  I said that unions know better than anyone that when Business isn’t transparent, Labor doesn’t win.  The environment doesn’t win, our communities don’t win, and our politicians [in this case] don’t win.
  • The Mayor (he’s strongly in favor of the project) said he thought it was a progressive solution.  I said “I’m having trouble reconciling that with the fact that I’ve seen nothing in this discussion that shows me there’s anything in place to incentivize our communities to waste less and reuse/recycle more.  Progressive movements nationally have said with one voice that reduction and reuse are the way forward, and there’s nothing here that makes me think this project will reward that over the next 35 years.  (It’s a 35 year commitment to 2012 technology.  After 10 years, there’s an opt-out option, but  that wold require the City to buy out DTE’s interest and/or facility.  That’s a lot of money we don’t have).
  • With respect to the gentleman from DTE who talked about one of the other bidders having just gone out of business as a sign that the City was right to chose DTE, I said that frankly, that makes me worry more about the utility of this project and its long term prospect for success.
  • I said that as City Council knows, the Pennsylvania Constitution makes some pretty progressive claims about the environment.  Clear air, clean water, and clean land (all germane to this discussion) are a right of all Pennsylvanians.  We need to be committed to a truly progressive way forward, and a deal that locks us in long-term to today’s technology (actually, three technologies that have never been used together in the way DTE proposes, and never put into a practice in a plant anywhere by DTE) negates the possibility of us moving forward in truly progressive ways.
  • 35 years ago, Bethlehem Steel would have paid a  lot of the salaries in this room and put chickens in every pot.  Whatever happened to Lehigh Structural Steel?  Anyone remember Hess’s?  Things change, and they change quickly and that’s truer now than ever.  We know that this kind of technology is changing all the time: entering into this deal on these terms prevents us from pursuing truly progressive technologies as they emerge.
  • Thank you for the time.

4 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Delta Thermo Deal and Last Night’s City Council Meeting and What I Said There

  1. So the progressive answer is to keep throwing 50,000 tons of waste onto big piles (where it produces air pollutants and leaches toxins into ground water over time) and burn non-renewable fossil fuels for energy?
    What’s never really considered in these discussions is that the status quo is bad for the environment — but it’s out of sight/out of mind. The deal seemed pretty good to me, — the deal was good because of the demonstration aspect of the project. If the tech were completely established and proven, Allentown probably couldn’t afford it.

    1. We still can’t afford it, especially if it doesn’t work. 35 years? Even with a 10 year opt out, the opt out require that the City buy the operation out or purchase the facility. That strikes me as irresponsible.

      The status quo issue is recognized by all parties and was discussed at the 5.5 hour meeting. The issue for me is that under the current status quo, there’s no waste to energy plant in a part of Allentown that’s already environmentally vulnerable and that already borders environmental justice areas. This deal brings one.

      It’s not the case that progress in the short term means Waste to Energy via this company in this manner right now vs. doing nothing. But that’s how many proponents have painted it. The truth is that we do have other options that address the landfill issue and the problems with the current decision, and these other options (or even a better process of weighing this options against WTE) beed to be looked more thoroughly by Council and by the Mayor. Too bad we can’t look at those other solutions again for another 35 years. Or even 10.

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