Lake Erie Group opposes tire plant

Courtesy Ignacio Simon


By Al Richardson

Greenwashing (n) The practice of companies making their products appear to be environmentally sound by putting them in green packages, claiming they are biodegradable (when they are not), etc.

Erie Renewable Energy (ERE) may use the term “Renewable Energy” in its company name, but the “tires-to-energy” electric power plant the company is proposing to build would actually generate dirty power from a distinctly non-renewable resource, making this company name one of the finest examples of greenwashing in our state.

Unlike bona fide renewable energy, which is generated from natural resources—such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat—and is generally more benign than energy generated from fossil fuels, ERE’s 90-megawatt power plant would actually emit higher levels of some toxins than traditional coal-fired power plants. Emission’s from ERE’s power plant would, in concert with pollution from other nearby sources, expose every person living, working, or attending school near or downwind from the plant to unacceptably high long-term health risks.

Proposed for a brownfield site in the city of Erie, the plant would use 900 tons of shredded, scrap tires in its circulating fluidized bed (CFB) system daily. While other unhealthy air pollutants from the plant are of serious concern (including ozone and mercury), the gravest risk to human health caused by using tires as fuel is the tiny organic particles, byproducts of combustion, that would be emitted from the smokestack. Studies of power plants using CFB systems have shown that tire rubber dramatically increases the emissions of two types of toxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxins/furans, both of which have well-documented negative impacts on human health. Astoundingly, PAH emissions from such plants when fueled by scrap tires are at least two orders of magnitude higher than when fueled by coal.

The Lake Erie Group believes that if the emissions of the proposed tire-fueled plant were added to the amounts of emissions already being released from existing sources in Erie County, the collective impact would present an unacceptably high health risk to people living near or downwind from the site.

After thorough research, and with advice from Dr. Neil Carman (Clean Air Program Director, Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club) and Dr. Sherri Mason (Associate Professor of Chemistry, SUNY College at Fredonia), the Lake Erie Group released an eight-page position paper that explains in detail how and why it reached this conclusion. The paper explains the process of particulate formation in the flue gasses of the proposed plant, describes existing air pollution in proximity to the plant site, and cites studies that show the health hazards of the plant’s emissions. It also cites ways that scrap tires can be recycled without polluting and without health risks—ways that better conserve the energy expended in manufacturing the tires from raw materials.

Al Richardson is political chair of the Lake Erie Group.