No 223 Posted by fw, July 17, 2011
The preceding post, Ontario citizens fight US-backed billion dollar quarry project in Dufferin County, featured a story about Ontario citizens mobilizing to stop a duplicitous US-based hedge fund from tearing a scar in our pristine landscape with an open-pit limestone mine.
This post tells another David and ugly US Goliath story. The people of Merthyr, a small town in South Wales, already a jobs and health blackspot, are threatened with a huge, dirty incinerator project proposed by US-based Covanta Energy. If approved, the result would be further pollution and the choking off of a potential green jobs windfall.
To find out more about how this threat to their well-being has empowered them to fight back, watch the following video, Burned – Merthyr’s Fight for Clean Air and Green Jobs, uploaded by Friends of the Earth, June 6, 2011. My transcript follows. And two related readings will bring you up to date on this inspiring citizen-action adventure. FIGHT BACK!
Female interviewee — I think enough people need to know about what’s happening unless the decision’s already been made and then we’re stuck.
Male interviewee – It’s criminal what they’re doing to the area.
Chris Austin, local campaigner – When you think of Merthyr now these days you think of a rundown, deprived area and it has run down over the years obviously. But you only got to go back 30 to 40 years and Merthyr was quite a thriving town. Now that we’ve lost the manufacturing base here in Merthyr, we’re left with very high unemployment, high sickness, low life expectancy, and we’re seen very much as a soft target.
Howard Kinsey, farmer – Every valley in the south Wales coal field, I mean, are being exploited to a great extent. You know, a lot of minerals – the minerals are gone, the money’s gone with it. Not a great deal put back in, you know.
Chris Austin, local campaigner — Over the last decade Merthyr’s suffered at the hands of some very short-sighted schemes. You can see over here, we’ve got an open-cast [or “open-pit”] coal mine, a massive open-cast coal mine there, called fossil fan (my best guess). Over the top of the mound there, we’ve got the Trecatti landfill site. And now Covanta, an American incinerator company wants to build a large incinerator down on the plain there. (See also Covanta UK) . This incinerator will be massive and will affect the communities across the two valleys here. All according to what the weather conditions and the direction of the wind will be.
<Incineration is not a clean way of generating energy. The Merthyr incinerator would burn items that could be recycled such as paper and clothes as well as rubber and plastics>
Chris Austin, local campaigner – The site of this plant is absolutely massive. It’s as big or bigger than the millennium stadium. The stack height will be 385 foot off the top of that plateau there. And that plateau is sitting at about 1200 foot above sea level.
<Even with the best filters available, this incinerator would pump out toxic chemicals and dirty air as well as high levels of carbon dioxide>
Howard Kinsey, farmer — The main thing of course is anything that comes out of this plant will directly go into the food chain and it could be quite devastating, the long-term effect.
Alyson Austin, local campaigner — Covanta will be burning 750,000 ton of waste a year. They are planning probably to bring 50 percent of it in by road. That means over 300 lorry movements a day. The roads infrastructure in Merthyr will not cope with that amount of lorry movement.
<There is an alternative>
Haf Elga, Friends of the Earth, Cymru – One of the worst things is this proposal’s being spun as bringing jobs to the local area. But there’ll only be 65 long-term jobs, and only a fraction of those going to local people. Our research shows that about 3,000 new jobs could be created in Merthyr and the surrounding heads of the valley area through high recycling and home energy efficiency. There’s greater potential for green jobs in Merthyr, and we don’t want dirty industry chasing them away.
<The decision on the Merthyr incinerator will be made by the IPC, a new unelected body>
Alyson Austin – The IPC process [Infrastructure Planning Commission] is a fast-track planning process, which means local opposition has very, very little say. In fact, they can override any local opposition, they can override any local authority opposition and Welsh Assembly government opposition.
<We don’t have to accept this>
Alyson Austin – Covanta submitted their proposal on the 31st of December . And because the consultation on Covanta’s behalf has been so ineffective, we decided to take it out to the communities ourselves. Within 4 weeks we managed to set up committee meetings all over the valleys and we now have 10 communities who have their own committees. And we managed to get ten and a half thousand people to register their interest either online or by actually filling in the form with us.
<Over 200 local people travelled to Bristol in March to show their opposition>
Female interviewee — We’ve come down from various villages surrounding the Merthyr area to campaign against this monster incinerator, and to tell them that we do not want it, and they can take it back.
Male interviewee – Almost everybody I’ve spoken to is against the idea, but they’ve only heard about it from community meetings or groups or from a neighbour or whatever. There’s no, there’ve been no proper official, impartial workshops, displays, public meetings for people to find out.
Male interviewee – We don’t believe in incineration, and we don’t believe in the IPC process. We think we’ve got a government in Wales and they should be making the decision on this.
Alyson Austin – Can a people who never ever got to get involved in anything political or anything, um, campaigning – and we got young mothers coming in, we’ve got middle-aged ladies chairing their own community sessions. It’s absolutely amazing. People are finding that they can do things they never ever thought possible.