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May 23rd, 2012:

A chance to get rid of waste with virtually no emissions


Howard Winn
May 24, 2012

We hear of interesting developments on the incinerator front. Readers will recall that the Environmental Protection Department’s plan for a HK$15 billion incinerator on the scenically attractive island of Shek Kwu Chau, off the south coast of Lantau, is currently on hold pending consideration by C.Y. Leung’s incoming administration. Senior executives from the Solena Group have been in town this week visiting the department. The group specialises in plasma arc technology and using it to convert municipal solid waste into jet fuel. The company has in recent years signed a number of agreements with airlines and municipal authorities for converting municipal solid waste to biofuel projects. It has started construction of a facility in London in partnership with British Airways and has signed agreements and letters of intent with SAS, Alitalia, and will be discussing a similar project with an Australian airline.

This led to speculation that Solena has been speaking to Cathay Pacific (SEHK: 0293) this week with a view to setting up a waste-to-biofuels plant in Hong Kong. The EPD believes the technology is immature and has not been tried on the volumes of municipal solid waste (MSW) Hong Kong is looking to incinerate – 3,000 tonnes a day. The closest volume, to our knowledge, is a plant in the US which handles 2,400 tonnes a day of scrap metal, though this admittedly raises fewer technical problems than MSW. Solena says it can deal with 3,000 tonnes a day as its units are modular. The adoption of this technology would be cheaper and over time it is envisaged it could munch its way through Hong Kong’s current landfills. The advantage of this technology from an environmental perspective is that it produces virtually no emissions. This compares with the traditional incineration process the EPD wants to use, which is known to emit toxins and to produce high volumes of ash, much of which is highly toxic and will need to be carefully handled and disposed of in landfills. So we await with interest to learn if Solena has made any impact on the EPD or whether the department will persist with its pursuit of old and environmentally messy technology.

Check the math: Study touting ‘safer’ fracking reveals Big Oil’s ties to academia

What do you call a report that makes major math mistakes, pulls language directly from other publications without citation, and fails to disclose the researchers’ financial conflicts of interest?

In the fight over fracking, it might just be called “peer-reviewed” science.

The most recent example of such sketchy research comes from the University of Buffalo, which released a report [PDF] this month concluding that fracking is getting safer and pointing for proof to Pennsylvania, ground zero for drilling.

The problem isn’t just that the study itself is misleading and riddled with errors (which it is). It’s that in their efforts to win public favor, the fracking industry increasingly hides behind academia to circulate misinformation — and the University of Buffalo is the latest cover.

Let’s deconstruct: The study’s key claim is that the rate of major environmental violations in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale declined from 2008 to 2011. But a look at the study’s data shows that, using the researchers’ own methodology, the rate of major environmental accidents actually increased by more than 30 percent.

Large chunks of the report appear to be lifted verbatim from a document previously published by three of the report’s four authors for a conservative think tank called the Manhattan Institute. This matters because the university study fails to cite the think tank. In this case, it’s very relevant:

The Manhattan Institute receives financial support from oil and gas companies heavily invested in fracking, like ExxonMobil. Instead, the study released this month is stamped only with the University of Buffalo’s academic imprimatur.

Funding sources The Manhattan Institute received $19,470,416 in grants from 1985–2005, from foundations such as the Koch Family Foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, Inc., the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, theScaife Foundations, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.[63] The Manhattan Institute does not disclose its corporate funding, but the Capital Research Center listed its contributors as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Exxon Mobil, Chase Manhattan, CIGNA, Sprint, Reliant Energy, Lincoln Financial Group Foundation, and Merrill Lynch.[64]

These problems and more are discussed in a detailed assessment by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI), a nonprofit research and educational organization focused on corporate and government accountability. It highlights the worsening problem ofuniversities getting into bed with industries and compromising research in the process.

The University of Buffalo report leaves out other key information — like the fact that when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) took office in 2011, his new top environmental regulator sent around a memo telling inspectors that they had to get approval from political appointees before issuing violations to Marcellus drillers. That order was retracted after it leaked to the press, but by that time the message to state workers was pretty clear.

The Buffalo report also sidelines entire categories of violations as “administrative” rather than “environmental” — often without clear information about the nature of the offense.

Some media outlets failed to do their homework and too quickly ran with the report. Forbes, for example, went with: “Fracking Safety Improves Dramatically Says Independent Study.”

Press people at the University of Buffalo pitched the report extensively as a rare good-news opportunity for the controversy-riddled fracking issue. The lack of regulation of fracking in places — quite especially in Pennsylvania — has been extensively documented.

The University of Buffalo’s study offered an alternate reality.

“This study presents a compelling case that state oversight of oil and gas regulation has been effective,” lead author Timothy Considine said in the press release.

It’s worth giving some context on Considine. As the folks at PAI point out, both Considine and fellow report author Robert Watson also wrote a controversial 2009 report [PDF] issued under the auspices of Penn State but funded by the natural gas industry group known as the Marcellus Shale Committee.

Penn State retracted the initial version of the report because it did not disclose its funding source and “may well have crossed the line from policy analysis to policy advocacy,” according to the school’s dean of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Other authors and reviewers of the report from Buffalo have undisclosed ties to industry, which are detailed in the review by PAI.

The University of Buffalo is partly to blame for not vetting its own study a bit better. In fact, the university may have been a bit too eager to publicize the report. The press release originally described the study as “peer-reviewed,” a term usually reserved for research meticulously reviewed by experts before publication in an academic journal. But it turned out that the report was only circulated for comment to five people, most of whom have industry ties — and the lone environmentalist among the bunch has distanced himself from its findings, according to PAI.

“This description may have given readers an incorrect impression,” the website now notes in a retraction.

Unfortunately, when academia allows the media to run with “incorrect impressions,” including ones created by seriously flawed data, the damage may already be done.

Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, National Wildlife, and the Legal Intelligencer, and a variety of other publications.

Letter to Editor

Download PDF : Lettertoeditor


The [SKC] incinerator will be equipped with the so-called “latest” moving grate technology, which was inspired by a study of Germany’s incinerators six years ago.
[next already on clear the air blog:]

“With its very good facilities for incinerating hazardous waste, Germany is assuming a part of the general environmental responsibility,” says Environmental Minister Sigmar Gabriel from the Social Democrat Party (SPD). Gabriel argues that disposing of the waste in Germany is still safer than letting it be improperly deposited elsewhere or dumped into the sea. But in future, the Social Democrat would like to see the waste exporters build their own incinerators — ideally with technology made in Germany.

China — not noted for its environmental concerns until now — seems to want to realize Gabriel’s vision. Two up-to-date hazardous waste incinerating facilities will now be built in Beijing and in an industrial park in the northwest of the country — using German know-how.

Claudia Baitinger from BUND, the German chapter of Friends of the Earth, said the statistics hide some important facts.

Burning garbage remains a large waste of resources, even where it is used to generate power and heat for homes. “Resources are being squandered here,” she said, pointing out that the resources that are turned to fuel required energy to create in the first place.

“The hierarchy of waste management is still upside down,” said Baitinger. “Appeals are based on this order: prevention, reuse, recycling and at the very end disposal. In reality, it happens the other way around.”

She doubts the extent to which Germany is saving waste from landfill.

Residual waste cannot be eliminated


He presumably wants to sell German incinerators to Hong Kong ?

Environment and Sustainability


Mr. Wolfgang Ehmann
Executive Director

May 23, 2012

Residual waste cannot be eliminated

Your correspondents’ many commentaries on waste incineration are certainly well intended, but often miss the point and some statements claimed as fact remain unsubstantiated.

Firstly, the residue of the incineration process is not toxic sludge, as stated in one letter, but ashes, which can be used, for example, in building construction.

Second, the moving grate technology, unlike the plasma arc method, is proven and tested for large-scale incineration plants, like the one proposed to be constructed in Hong Kong.

Thirdly, recycling is often presented as the alternative to incineration.

This would be true only if a 100 per cent waste recovery rate was practically achievable.

Fourth, many readers pick on the administration as the main culprit for not having solved the problem long ago.

This is a rather low-hanging fruit to pick, as it conveniently overlooks the fact, that whatever initiatives the government may propose, they have to pass legislation and stakeholder scrutiny before they can be implemented.

The endless debate around the plastic bag levy is a shining example of just how tedious the process can be.

A financial burden is normally the main reason for public resistance against any such regulations, but in this case payment could easily be avoided by bringing your own bag. Still, it took three years to pass the levy into law.

How long will it take, then, to get a meaningful domestic waste charging scheme or waste electronic and electrical equipment regulations passed? To decide on a strategy to deal with its waste is a community effort.

Recovery and recycling are vital components of such a strategy, but there is no known live example, anywhere in the world, where residual waste is completely eliminated from the economic cycle.

It would be a great leap forward, if the people of Hong Kong recycled their waste as enthusiastically as the opponents of waste incineration do with their arguments against the latter.

Wolfgang Ehmann, Admiralty

Paid for journalism Libertarian group takes a hit

The ultra-conservative Heartland Institute admitted it was in financial crisis on Wednesday, with the flight of corporate donors making it difficult to pay staff or cover the costs of its annual conference aimed at debunking climate science.

In a speech at the close of this year’s climate conference, Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast, acknowledged that a provocative ad campaign comparing believers in human-made climate change to psychopaths had exacted a heavy cost.

However, Bast also attributed Heartland’s current problems to his weakness in financial management.

“These conferences are expensive, and I’m not a good fundraiser so as a result I don’t raise enough money to cover them. We really scramble to make payroll as a result to cover these expenses,” Bast said.

“If you can afford to make a contribution please do. If you know someone, if you’ve got a rich uncle or somebody in the family or somebody that you work with, please give them a call and ask them if they would consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the Heartland Institute.”

The organisation has lost at least $825,000 in funds from corporate donors although Heartland also claims to have attracted 800 new small donors. Heartland also came in for bruising criticism from its own allies – a number of whom faulted Bast for failing to consult Heartland’s colleagues or board members about the ads in advance.

Among ultra-conservative activists, the billboard controversy has shaken confidence in Heartland’s ability to serve as the hub of the climate contrarian network. It has also raised doubts about Bast’s leadership. Bast is listed on Heartland’s website as its earliest employee. His wife is also employed at Heartland.

But Heartland was facing a cash crunch even before the Gleick expose.

Nine employees were due to be laid or take pay cuts in 2011, according to the budget documents obtained by Gleick.

This year’s conference was a drastically shrunken version of earlier Heartland gatherings, which attracted up to 800 attendees and ran several concurrent sessions. Those events were also lucrative for Heartland, accounting for half of its non-fundraising events revenue, according to documents obtained through deception by the scientist Peter Gleick.

At this year’s gathering in Chicago, fewer than 170 turned up for the gala opening banquet, and the conference only managed to eke out one session at a time, and brought in relatively few outside speakers.

And the only member of Congress to attend this year, conservative Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, used his speech to criticise Heartland for the billboard.

“We can continue to win these debates out of the strength of our arguments without recourse to unsavoury tactics that only serve to distract from our message,” he said. “Let’s not get off message.”

Heartland initially had not even planned to hold a conference. But after the organisation was shaken last February by the internet sting exposing its donor list and fundraising strategy, Heartland changed its mind.

However, Bast said Heartland may stop putting on the conferences. “I hope to see you at a future conference, but at this point we have no plans to do another.”