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MIRA Says It Will Ship Thousands Of Tons Of Old Coal Out Of State

Cloe Poisson
Connecticut Mirror

A proposal to burn about 2,500 tons of old coal at a major Hartford trash plant is getting a strong rebuke from state regulators. But the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) said Wednesday that burning the coal in Hartford is “the most environmentally sound” way to get rid of it.

MIRA wanted to burn up that old coal by gradually mixing it in with trash from its member towns.

“The motivation for that is cost,” said Tom Kirk, MIRA’s president and CEO. “We could dispose of it by burning it, as we have for decades, at a much more favorable price, or cost, than the alternative, which is essentially sending it west.”

Kirk said that MIRA used to burn coal alongside garbage at its Hartford waste-to-energy plant but that the fuel became unnecessary as trash loads got bigger.

That led to tons of coal sitting unused for more than 10 years.

Now, with the plant facing closure next year, MIRA is looking for ways to get rid of it. In a series of emails and phone calls, it recently asked the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) for permission to burn that coal with its garbage.

“We would not burn 2,500 tons of coal,” said Peter Egan, director of operations and environmental affairs at MIRA, in a Wednesday interview. “It would be blended into the [trash] at a rate where we had about 10 percent coal. It would take several months.”

But in a sharply worded July letter, DEEP rebuked MIRA’s idea, saying it is “the wrong thing to do for a multitude of reasons.”

“Burning coal, basically, is a source of air pollution,” said Betsey Wingfield, deputy commissioner for environmental quality at DEEP. “It also contributes greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. There’s heavy metals. There’s mercury associated with burning coal. And it also contributes to acid rain through the release of sulfur dioxide.”

Sharon Lewis, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, said in an email Wednesday that the soot produced from burning coal has “deadly health consequences including asthma.”

“[Environmental justice] communities are disproportionately exposed to and affected by coal burning facilities,” Lewis said. “No matter where they do it, the burning of coal is deadly to human health and the environment.”

Kirk said MIRA was “very disappointed” in DEEP’s decision.

But he said the trash agency will follow DEEP’s guidance and not burn the material in Hartford. Instead, he said MIRA will likely ship the old coal out of state.

“At some point, we’re going to find, via the market, a suitable partner to handle this for us,” Kirk said. “That will invariably mean combusting it for fuel somewhere west of Hartford.”

Egan said that could mean the release of more harmful emissions as trucks load up that old coal and transfer it to get burned somewhere else.

“If we put it on trucks and ship it to western Pennsylvania or perhaps further, not only will it likely be burned and the carbon dioxide that will result from its combustion be put in the atmosphere,” Egan said, “but additional combustion of fossil fuel will occur, and that’s the diesel fuel that will be burned to move all this material west.”

Wingfield said she “hadn’t heard that directly from MIRA” but that “clearly, you would have to do a complete analysis of it.”

But she said that Connecticut has been “working on cleaning up our air emissions” and pointed out that the state’s last coal-burning power plant, the Bridgeport Harbor Station, just shut down in the spring.

“I do not think burning coal in Hartford in this day and age would be a welcome activity,” Wingfield said. “Hopefully we’ve moved past that as a state.”

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public Radio

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.