The Delta Thermo Energy Deal in Allentown is No More, But We Must Stay Tuned In Case the Other Shoe, When It Drops, Is Dropped into Another Ill-Conceived Incinerator

air quality, Allentown, dte, writing

The City of Allentown is pulling out of the contract with Delta Thermo Energy.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/mc-allentown-delta-thermo-termination-contract-20140930-story.html

This news surely spells the death of the experimental trash and sewage sludge incinerator that threatens Allentown.

HOWEVER, the company’s air and waste permits are still out there.  The air permit could be sold to other companies who want to develop that site.  Their waste permit could be used by anyone here or elsewhere in the state, if not challenged.

We also have an ongoing lawsuit to get the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance on the ballot, so that voters can adopt a law protecting the city against incinerator pollution from any company in the future.  It’s also critical, since the case will affect whether local governments anywhere in the state can adopt their own clean air laws.

Allentown can breathe easy for now, but let’s not go to sleep.  This isn’t over yet. See Allentown Residents for Clean Air or www.stoptheburn.org for more.

This victory couldn’t have happened without massive organizing and legal support from me, Traci and others at Energy Justice Network. It cost us close to $20K and three years of work (and some of the legal work will still continue).

If you can help give back, your donations are much needed and appreciated, and will help ensure that this victory is final and that other communities also get the support they need.
http://stoptheburn.org/donate

Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance

writing

Allentown Residents for Clean Air

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
6/6/2014

CONTACT:
Rich Fegley 610-509-8996

Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance 

ALLENTOWN – Members of Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA) filed a motion in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas to bring a clean air ordinance to the Allentown voters.  Last year, ARCA members collected nearly 3,500 signatures, exceeding the 2,000 signature requirement for Allentown voters to put an initiative on the ballot.  The Allentown Clean Air Ordinance initiative would require any company building a new incinerator in the city to continuously monitor about 20 air pollutants, release the emissions data to a website real-time, and to cap emissions for four of those pollutants.

Only one company currently aims to build an incinerator in Allentown: Delta Thermo Energy A, LLC.  They hope to find adequate investors to start building their proposed facility soon, which would burn 150 tons per day of processed trash and sewage sludge.  Delta Thermo Energy was recently awarded air pollution and waste permits by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  The air permit requires only five pollutants to be monitored on a continuous basis, plus the darkness of the smoke and the global warming pollutant, CO2 — far short of what the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance would require.

Last October, the court refused to compel the county Board of Elections to put the ordinance on the ballot, siding with the county and Delta Thermo Energy’s claims that the ordinance is not legal because it requires approval from the state DEP.  That decision was not technically final, however, and could not be appealed for that reason.  The motion for summary judgment filed with the court seeks a final decision from the court.

ARCA members, including Rich Fegley, argue in a detailed 53-page brief that state law grants local governments the power to adopt their own stricter air pollution laws without needing DEP approval, and that such laws are needed in Allentown because the city is 14th worst in the nation for sooty-air and is the nation’s 11th worst asthma capital.

This motion introduces new arguments from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case decided in late December, in which the state’s highest court struck down major parts of Act 13, a 2012 law that the court said went too far in supporting the oil and gas industry.  The law, designed to support hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas, overrode local governments’ rights to adopt any sort of ordinance to restrict gas industry development.  For the first time, the court found that the rights to clean air and pure water in the Pennsylvania constitution can be enforced to protect the rights of the people.  It also found that the Commonwealth (including local governments) has a duty to protect these rights.

“If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can find that our constitutional rights to clean air and water make it illegal for the state to take actions that interfere with those rights, then surely the constitution backs up the clear language in our state law that gives Allentown the authority to adopt its own clean air ordinance. The highest court in the state has clarified that municipalities are obligated to protect the health and welfare of citizens, and that environmental rights are guarantees that have to be protected at every level of government.” says Breena Holland, political science professor at Lehigh University.

The motion also argues that Delta Thermo Energy and Lehigh County misrepresented election law to the county court.  These parties convinced the court last year that Boards of Election are empowered to keep an ordinance off of the ballot if they think it’s not legal.  However, ARCA members’ motion argues that these cases say the opposite.  “Pennsylvania’s law is clear on this,” says Diane Teti, one of the plaintiffs.  “Boards of Elections are empowered to make sure that signatures and notarizations are valid and sufficient, but that’s it.  There is no dispute that we met those requirements, and the Board of Elections is required to put it on the ballot.  Legality of ordinances is for the courts to decide.”

And decide they will.  The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas has given Delta Thermo Energy and the Board of Elections until July 1st to respond, after which the court will make a final decision.

“This fight is not over,” says Fegley.  “No incinerator will be built in Allentown, and if we have to appeal this all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to bring our right to clean air to the Allentown voters, we will.”

###


Sources:

Motion for Summary Judgment Brief:
http://stoptheburn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-06-01-ARCA-final-brief.pdf

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling on Act 13:
http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-127A-D-2012oajc.pdf

Asthma ranking: “Asthma Capitals 2013,” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.asthmacapitals.com ;http://www.aafa.org/pdfs/2013_AC_FinalPublicList1.pdf

Allentown won’t have its ‘miracle’ without affordable housing

advocacy, economics, justice, politics, spirituality, writing

Please click through to my recent op-ed in The Morning Call.

 

“In the wake of John Tarbay’s death at the Hamilton Street Bridge, just yards away from the Allentown Rescue Mission and not far from other agencies, a familiar chorus from social service providers and even some activists is likely to emerge: “Someone like John just didn’t want to come inside,” or “John was a ‘rough-sleeper.’ We tried,” or “John was this, that, or the other. John couldn’t live by the rules of society, or didn’t want to.”

All of those things may be true.

With the worst winter in memory finally behind us, it’s tempting to let the calls that more be done for Allentown’s and the Lehigh Valley’s homeless subside. It’s tempting to forget that “not being able to live by the rules of society” is obviously another way of talking about mental health, and mental health issues are the reasons most folks are on the street…”

Read more:

100 Homeless Tent Cities Across America? Try 1000. Maybe More.

advocacy, economics, justice, politics

“the shelters…there’s just not enough room.”

http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/16/pf/tent-city/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

The guy who says “this is a conscientious choice” (people LOVE living in tent cities!) is part of the problem.

100 tent cities across America? Try 1000. There are at least 3 in the Lehigh Valley. I doubt we own 3 percent of this issue.

And yes, the City of Allentown is shutting them down, even though there’s really no place for people to go.

 

Living Here In Allentown and on Reverse Frontiers

culture, politics, spirituality

At about 118,000 people, Allentown is the third-largest and fastest-growing city in Pennsylvania.  After long and short falls from its place as a national commercial and industrial leader, Allentown is again a city in transition, with a downtown redevelopment project (heavily subsidized, of course) poised to renew the economic vitality of the urban core.

Allentown is a mid-sized city, and here’s what that means to me:  big enough to be burdened with great responsibilities and blessed with great potential, but small enough that people — and partnerships — can make real differences.  Small enough, then, for me to take the success of my city personally.  Developers may be footing parts of the bill, but at 80 public cents spent for every private dollar, so am I.   So are the working poor, and I continue to demand real opportunities for everyone affected to have a voice in all this change.   Allentown’s size also means there are real opportunities for territorialism, silo-building,and cronyism, as well as well as real opportunities to have a personal stake in the subversion of those things.   Those former things are bad for my city, and I can be given to take that personally. It’s no coincidence that my spiritual tradition holds out a vision for a kind of city where those former things have passed away.

The opportunities in Allentown mean specific things for young Gen Xers and Millennials.

Creative class: we need you.

Come here.  Move here.  Create here.  Advocate here.  A hundred more of you could be the tipping point that creates thriving art and green scenes that you’ll build with the people here who are working hard at connecting around those kinds of issues now.  If developers and politicians assert with their branding and their braggadocio that Allentown is up for grabs, I’ll assert it with them.  And if it’s up for grabs for them, it’s up for grabs for us.  We need you to help us chart the course of Allentown’s civic identity in the 21st Century.  Help us see our iconography anew.  Help us celebrate our history by building a future together.  Join the good work being done here and stake your own claim on this reverse-frontier.

Someone found my blog today by searching the term “Generation X is broken.”  We’re not, and neither is this place.  We are poised to make a difference, to create and lead the change.  Come back from the hinterland and be part of something real.

For reference, Allentown is bigger than fellow mid-sized cities like Springfield, Illinois; Athens, Georgia; Lansing, Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Berkley, California; and Burbank, California.  Like most of these cities, Allentown is part of a larger metropolitan area.  And we’re uniquely positioned within reasonable distances from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and DC. We have unique colonial, consumer and creative heritage, an institutional art scene and an emerging network of eager independents.

See you soon.

Solidarity, Serendipity, Grace: a brief story from my morning

culture, politics, spirituality, writing

Yesterday I reposted a three-year old piece about Hess’s, the famed and sorely missed downtown commercial icon that owned the 20th century not just here in Allentown but really across this part of Pennsylvania.

As you know if you live here, Allentown is undergoing half-a-billion dollars in new capital investment (highly subsidized, of course).

This morning, I had a breakfast get-together downtown. I was early, and I found myself sitting in the lobby of the Butz building, about 830, silently praying. At some point, a kind woman I’d never met before who works somewhere in the building asked me if I wanted anything to eat or if I could use some coffee. Yesterday, I gave a little extra at a local coffee shop and said if you don’t want the tip, please do pass it on to a homeless friend in need. #solidarity #serendipity #grace.

The kind woman from this morning may have thought I was homeless or just simply hurting, and maybe that’s on her mind because of all the awareness being raised about the needs in Allentown. Maybe looking out for others is part of who she is.  In any case, I’m  grateful there are people out there wanting to help each other.  I’m grateful for her kindness and her courage, and I know that someday soon it will encounter someone with needs I can’t begin to imagine, and I bet it has already.

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