By Alyssa Wilds, Senior Manager of Corporate Relations at Covanta
Camden is always at the forefront of my mind and in my heart. Why wouldn’t it be? I am Camden! I was born, raised, and educated in the city. And as a professional I have dedicated my life to ensuring the betterment of my people through my community service.
A couple of people have decided that Covanta is the source of all our environmental problems, when the reality is that our facility is a very small contributor and certainly not on the same scale as the far larger and more impactful culprits filling our highways and skyways. Nonetheless, we believe all emissions, from all sources in the community, must be considered and addressed. As a result, we have invested and continue to invest millions of dollars annually to reduce our emissions contribution even further, even though our operations remain well below permissible environmental limits.
That’s why I’m excited that Covanta has submitted the permits for a huge new project called the Camden Green Initiative. This is a $60 million investment to reduce the air emissions from the plant by installing the most advanced air quality control retrofit in the country, including the installation of a state-of-the-art filter baghouse, that will substantially reduce emissions of some pollutants by as much as 95%.
Additionally, and my favorite part of the project, is the creation of the Covanta Camden Community Benefits Agreement (CCCBA) with Camden residents. This is a long-term contractual commitment we’ve made with groups representing the people in the neighborhoods of Waterfront South and Morgan Village for Covanta to contribute much-needed funding to various projects the communities deem important. Through the agreement, a committee of local representatives and a Covanta representative will decide what local projects will receive funding.
Finally, the project also includes equipment to enable the facility to receive and process nonhazardous liquid water waste. Certain groups are already starting to spread misinformation and fear about this proposed effort. However, processing liquids will have no impact on emissions, will not create odors and will not increase truck traffic. In fact, it is the best means of managing this waste stream. We know it will have no impact on our community because it’s the same process that we have used at other plants including our Warren County, NJ, Indianapolis, IN, and Niagara, NY, facilities.
The nonhazardous liquids the Camden facility will receive are wash water streams generated from rinsing equipment after it is used in pharmaceutical, food, or other industrial or manufacturing operations. For example, processing tanks at a paint facility may require periodic cleaning, much like if you were to rinse your paint brush after painting your home, and so are rinsed with water to remove any residual product.
That’s the project in a nutshell, but those opposing it will lead you to believe otherwise. It saddens me to see so many of our neighbors inundated with scare tactics and false accusations instead of facts in the name of environmental justice.
Endorsed by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations, facilities like these are the only major source of energy that is carbon negative. This is because waste-to-energy facilities generate electricity at the same time they manage our trash, avoiding climate-damaging methane emissions at landfills and recovering resources for recycling like metals.
Real environmental justice requires taking meaningful and measurable actions to listen, empower and protect the communities we serve. I can’t stress enough how we are here to be transparent in our operations and in conversation with residents and concerned citizens. After all, this is our community too and where our employees and their families live, work and play.