Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives

February 11, 2013

Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives Comments on San Jose’s Harvest Power Gasification Feasibility Study

Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice (“Greenaction”) and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (“GAIA”) urge the City of San Jose to reject the current proposed project due to concerns about pollution, health, environmental impacts, and due to the unacceptable “feasibility study” process that violates the basic principles of public participation and environmental justice due to the systematic exclusion of almost everyone except government, industry and industry consultants.

I. The Feasibility Study Process Violates the Basic Principles of Public Participation and Environmental Justice Due to its Pro-Industry Bias, Composition and Methodology

The Draft Feasibility Study correctly pointed out that “…development of a strong stakeholder base to participate in the process from the beginning and provide input at key decision points is critical to the value of the feasibility study.” The draft study also stated that “Each phase of this project will include input and analysis from a wide variety of stakeholders.”

Unfortunately, the City has not followed its own advice and has conducted a process that has had a narrow, non-inclusive stakeholder process that effectively excluded the most important stakeholder of all, the people of San Jose. The promise to include a wide variety of stakeholders clearly has not been kept.

In your “response to comments” posted on the website set up for this project (which is only available to people who have been invited), you essentially acknowledge that this was not a public process. Specifically, you admit and write that “As an industry stakeholder process, the reviewers would represent the members of the public represented by their agencies.” Our response is that the City of San Jose should have a public process, not an “industry stakeholder process. Your contention that the stakeholders represent the public is incorrect – the people involved are almost completely from industry and government. On the last “webinar,” the representative of Greenaction was the only public interest representative.

You write that “Project stakeholders were selected and invited based on their ability to review and respond to the specific questions being analyzed.” However, it is inappropriate for a government agency and government officials whose salary is paid by the public to invite only those who you think can review and respond. We believe many residents would like to have input on this project and recommendation, yet you have intentionally and systematically excluded them.

This approach to a feasibility study effectively excluded virtually the entire population of San Jose. Most residents know nothing of this project or process as they were never informed of it by the City, the California Energy Commission or any other governmental or industry entity.

In addition, using an invite-only online methodology for this process excludes those in the community who do not have internet access or ability, even if they by some miracle knew of this project and process.

In addition, using an online process that is in English only when many residents do not speak English is wrong and effectively excludes key constituents. San Jose is a city with diverse residents and you have effectively excluded them.

Using a webinar format where the “stakeholders” are not allowed to talk is absurd and violates the very premise of public participation in government decision-making processes in a democracy. The only ones who were allowed to speak were City staff, the company and your pro-gasification consultants.

The fact that the City of San Jose conducted a feasibility study about such an important issue without ever having a public meeting or hearing is wrong and violates the basic principles of public involvement and makes a mockery of transparency in government decision-making processes.

II. California Energy Commission Failed to Conduct Public Process

Your response to Greenaction’s question about whether the California Energy Commission had a public process also illustrates your lack of understanding of what true public involvement means. Unless a San Jose resident or anyone else in the public not tied into this project has ESP, they would never know to even look at the CEC website or know what to look for. How many residents received a notice from the CEC? The answer is probably no one other than city staff. The CEC did not have a true public hearing, did not provide meaningful notice to the affected public, and conducted their business in English-only.

III. Feasibility Study Improperly Relied on Categorical Exemption from CEQA

We challenge the credibility and appropriateness of this current process being conducted pursuant to a Categorical Exemption from CEQA, especially as you admit in your draft study that “Since the type of project proposed for San José has not yet been implemented or demonstrated, there has not been any actual operating availability data provided.”

The people of San Jose should not be treated as guinea pigs, and their tax dollars should not have paid for staff to initially attempt, and succeed, in exempting the first stage of this study from CEQA. This is especially a concern as you now admit that CEQA would require that a full Environmental Impact Report be conducted if the project proceeds.

CEQA should have been followed from the first day of this feasibility study as this proposed project clearly would have the potential for significant impacts.

IV. City’s Response to Comments on HDR and their role with the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority (SVSWA) is contradicted by the facts

Your response to Greenaction’s question about the reliability of information provided is completely inaccurate and without basis in fact. Your response states:

The reference to HDR’s involvement and analytical recommendations related to the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority (SVSWA) project (analysis of a plasma arc gasification system for the SVSWA) is not relevant to this gasification feasibility study for the City of San José. The comments appear to reflect a personal interpretation of events that occurred during a public meeting for a different project approximately two years ago. The assertions appear to reflect a misunderstanding of conversations that occurred during the SVSWA public meeting and have no relevance to the City of San José. HDR has been and will remain technology neutral as it assists its clients in providing waste solutions tailored to their community needs.

HDR’s role and incorrect comments on a gasification proposal in the Salinas Valley are quite relevant due to the issue of whether or not the City and the public can rely on HDR’s statements on this issue.

Your claim that Greenaction’s comments “appear to reflect a personal interpretation of events…” and “…appear to reflect a misunderstanding of conversations that occurred…” is totally wrong.

Greenaction’s comments were not a “personal interpretation” of “conversations.”

The comments by the HDR staff person were made during on-the-record testimony before a governmental body in the role of a consultant for the SVSWA.

The statements Greenaction referred to are a matter of public record, and the HDR staff person involved acknowledged to Greenaction that he misspoke, yet he refused to correct that misstatement.

V. Technology Being Considered

Your “response to comments” from the webinar correctly acknowledges that Harvest Power has no experience with the technology you are considering having them use. We believe the feasibility study should have focused on anaerobic digestion instead of, or at least along with, the gasification technology being considered.

The study includes a provocative statement that “It is important to clearly communicate to the agencies, stakeholders, and the public that thermal conversion technologies are not incinerators.”

In fact, the European Union does define incineration as including gasification and related technologies.

In addition, your own study admits that combustion is an important part of the technology and facility being considered, so it is a fact that incineration is involved in this and most other gasification-type technologies.

VI. The Proposed Project Should Not Be Called “Renewable Natural Gas Production Demonstration Project”

Although biomass qualifies for the California renewable portfolio standard, there is growing acceptance that biogenic emissions should not be automatically considered carbon neutral. Although such projects produce CO2 (in the case of combustion, biomass produces considerably more CO2 per unit of energy than a coal power plant), current climate policies erroneously include loopholes for “biogenic” emissions from biomass. Numerous scientific reviews and blue ribbon panels of scientists have strongly urged state and federal governments to close such loopholes in recent years.1

True renewable energy comes from the sun and the wind, not from urban wood “waste,” garbage, biosolids or other waste streams.

VII. Combustion

The draft study says that “Biomass will be the only feedstock combusted by the Project in the combustion chamber.” We are concerned about contaminants like plastics, and additives to make processed wood products like particle board, that may be on the “wood waste” to be combusted, and about the toxic and criteria emissions from burning the wood.

The biomass would be sourced from the Zanker landfill, which would also chip the material. What types of sorting and checking for contaminants to the wood does the landfill provide?

The pictures in the draft study of the Agnion pilot plant (Figures 5 and 6) seem to omit any picture of the emissions stack(s), although the study does address emissions from the combustion equipment. Why is that?

VIII. Emissions

Table 9, entitled “Emissions Measurements at Grassau Facility,” fails to include any hazardous air pollutants. Thus the claim that these are the sole emissions from the Grassau facility is misleading.

Your draft study does admit that there would be emissions of dioxin/furans above applicable trigger levels: “Review of the controlled emissions included in Attachment 1 indicates that with the exception of dioxin/furans, the use of the control equipment listed above is anticipated to keep project emissions below their applicable trigger levels, as well as under the BACT and ERC thresholds. Although the estimated controlled dioxin/furan levels are above the applicable trigger level….”(pages 41-42).

Table 14 on page 60 (Comparison of Expected Emissions from Agnion Demonstration Facility to BAAQMD Maximums) again lists some pollutants, but not toxic pollutants, and gives the incorrect impression that these are the only emissions from the facility.

Page 61 states “Although the estimated controlled dioxin/furan levels are above the applicable trigger level, implementation of good combustion control and an oxidation catalyst is expected to result in the

1 90 Scientists Letter to U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, May 2010: available for download at:

best control of dioxin/furan emissions possible.” Specifically, what emissions of dioxins and furans are expected and what do you base that on?

The feasibility study also should have discussed the bioaccumulative and synergistic effects of the emissions, particularly as you admit that the highly toxic dioxins and furans would be above the trigger level.

IX. Permitting

This section starts with a statement about permitting pathways for municipal solid waste (MSW) “conversion” projects, like gasification.

The study states on page 50 that “Biosolids will not be placed into the combustion chamber, thus they will not be subject to the federal EPA sludge incineration rule.” However, unless EPA has made a determination that gasification of sludge is not subject to the sludge incineration rule, this may not be true.

As described on page 50, gasification is considered to be a “solid waste facility” subject to a Solid Waste Facility Permit (SWFP). The City of San Jose must not seek shortcuts in permitting in order to pursue this proposed project.

We hope that our comments and concerns are taken seriously, and that the City of San Jose takes seriously its obligation to be transparent, unbiased and inclusive of all the residents of the city.

Bradley Angel
Executive Director
Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice 703 Market Street, Suite 501
San Francisco, CA 94103

Monica Wilson
US & Canada Program Director
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives 1958 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704 USA