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Alpine Energy

Federal Partnership Needed in Virgin Islands

April 22, 2010

Adam Warren

Director

VI Renewable Energy Pilot Project

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

1617 Cole Blvd.
Golden, CO 80401-3305
Adam.Warren@nrel.gov

Joseph McDermott

Acting Director Liaison

Office of Insular Affairs – Policy & Liaison Division
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240

Joseph_McDermott@ios.doi.gov

Steve Meyers

Partnerships and Communications

NOAA Fisheries Service

1315 East West Highway

Silver Spring, Maryland 20910

steve.meyers@noaa.gov

Gentlemen:

I write to you as a stateside attorney and an environmental citizen’s advocate on St. Thomas.  It was a pleasure to speak with all of you in regard to the VI Renewable Energy Pilot Project, the current waste and energy challenges we face in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the need to form a partnership with citizens, environmentalists and federal and local agencies to address these challenges together.

As you can see by the attached articles in the Virgin Islands Daily News, the VI Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) had a series of equipment breakdowns which resulted in dumping 1.2 million gallons of raw sewage per day over Long Reef in St. Croix from January 17 to mid-March.  The main station in St. Thomas, Cancryn, “has been without a working pump for close to nine months, Cornwall said.”   The landfill in St. Croix was scheduled to close years ago, and St. Thomas is not far behind. Clearly, VIWMA needs help, with a comprehensive approach toward both solid waste and wastewater treatment. These major Territorial issues are in addition to our energy woes, which you are already familiar with.

Understandably, the VI Senate is all the more pressed to find a solution to our landfill and wastewater problems as well as our energy issues.  Alpine and our local government, unilaterally, without citizen knowledge or involvement, entered into an agreement in 2009 for a waste to energy concept which is fueled primarily by petroleum coke and oil, and refuse derived fuel (rdf). Many factors are not addressed by Alpine, such as, for example, the horrendous toll on the environment from heavy metal and CO2 emissions. If we do not lower our CO2 emissions, all the remaining coral in the world will die.

There has been a vehement outcry of collective opposition to the Alpine plan by citizens and environmentalists, from both an economic and an environmental perspective. Many town and community meetings have been held, dozens and dozens of Letters to the Editor have been published, Testimony has been given before the VI Senate, and several environmentalists have devoted themselves full-time to researching and educating the rest of us as to the facts and the issues involved. I prepared a brief analysis for the Senate.  Please see the attached letter to Senator Malone which discusses the Alpine plan and how it is counter to the goals of EDIN and our Country’s and Territory’s pledge to decrease our reliance on oil-based solutions.

A portion of the Alpine plan was voted down by the VI Senate in March, 2010, but Alpine is modifying their proposal and will be submitting it to the VI Legislature within 2-4 weeks, according to VIWMA.  According to the VI Daily News, the new Alpine plan would only burn petroleum coke in an emergency. Yet that means that rather than building a straight rtf plant, they would be building a plant for an untried technology, (burning rtf and petroleum coke), just for an emergency situation. That is not logical from an economic aspect, unless they plan to have many emergencies. The previous plan called for burning up to 4,600 hours of oil a year, with the petroleum coke and rtf.  An oil-based solution, even with rtf, is not the best solution, and would tie us to the volatile oil market for at least 20 years, right when everyone has agreed in EDIN that we will be the pilot for renewable energy.

China and India are burning petroleum coke, and having a very negative impact on the world’s atmosphere.  Our federal agencies cannot do anything about those jurisdictions, but you gentlemen can make all the difference by helping our Territory to say no to Alpine, and instead, working together,  put great minds to the task of coming up with a comprehensive waste management system, and hopefully a waste to energy system using AC Plasma Gasification.

We citizens and environmentalists have been consulting with a Professional Engineer in Waste Management who is preparing a solid waste strategy/plan now, to submit to the VI Senate for their careful consideration as an alternative to the Alpine proposal. The concept is to address all of the USVI solid waste issues, to develop a comprehensive plan which is economical and environmentally responsible. By representatives of all concerned focused together, with transparency, we will be able to implement the plan much more efficiently, without collective energy focused on objections and lawsuits.  Further, since all federal and local agencies would be involved in the process from the outset, the permitting and approvals would be more streamlined.

Alpine’s waste to energy plan would tie the territory to using petroleum coke, oil or both for at least the next 20 years. Thus, this issue involves not only the EPA, but all the federal agencies who are committed to the success of the EDIN VI Renewable Energy Pilot Project. Further, the high CO2 and heavy metal emissions, in addition to other hazardous materials, affect the islands and coastal waters which are the responsibility of NOAA and FWS.  If all these federal agencies are helping us Virgin Islanders and our government to shoulder the collective responsibility for the success of this waste to energy project, we will succeed.

Our solid waste strategy/plan includes the consideration of alternating current (AC) plasma gasification, which would be a far more economical, environmentally green waste to energy system.  Since AC plasma gasification is cutting edge technology, it should be of great interest to the federal agencies involved in the VI Pilot Project. We will forward these documents to you as soon as they are submitted.

Sincerely yours,

Susan K. Wolterbeek

cc: Judith Enck, EPA Administrator, Region II

Miyoko Sakashita, Esq. Center for Biological Diversity

Your Island, Your Health – St Croix

 

Your Island, Your Health

Every single one of us requires air and water for survival. Without air to breathe we would not last but a few minutes. Without water to drink our bodies dry up, our organs systems fail and we die. If air and water are essential for our immediate survival, it makes sense that clear air and water are desirable. We can even go a step further and say that clean air and water are essential for health and a decent quality of life. You don’t have to be an expert to know the value of clean air and water- invaluable. This is not rocket science.

If you think that there is more than enough clean air out there so we can afford to get some dirty, think again. If you think that there is more than enough clean water out there, so we can afford to pollute some of it think again.

Right now most of us drink water that we buy in little plastic bottles that are filling up landfills because we don’t trust that our water supply is safe enough to drink. Right now the incidence of asthma, respiratory diseases, cancer, and allergies appears to be abnormally and curiously high in neighborhoods downwind of power plants and oil refineries.

What do we say to industry when we are told that burning petroleum coke aka “dirty coal” to incinerate municipal trash won’t kill us. According to the November 2009 report from Physicians for Social Responsibility, coal pollutants affect all major body systems and contribute to four of the five leading causes of death, namely heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory disease thusly compounding the major public health challenges of our time. Coal combustion releases a combination of toxic chemicals into the environment such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, heavy metals including mercury and nickel, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health and the health of our entire ecosystem. In other words, we are working seriously hard to poison ourselves and the entire planet—piece by piece.

Heavy metals, such as lead, nickel, and mercury, poison key enzyme systems of the body and are known to cause a host of degenerative, age related diseases. Our bodies cannot effectively eliminate these heavy metals, so they accumulate over our lifetime. When we are young and healthy most of us handle this toxic stress by hiding the toxins within our cells, but eventually the cells become overburdened and the toxicity spills out and begins to affect the entire body and we get sick. Sickness starts slowly and insidiously with age-related conditions such as hypertension and hyperlipidemia, or we may feel tired for no good reason. In later years metal toxicity may show itself in disease states that can end our lives, including heart disease and cancer, or degenerative brain diseases like senility and Alzheimer’s.

What do we say to industry experts when they tell us, “don’t worry, we’ll burn your trash and everything will be just fine,” as plastics, pesticides, and household chemicals which are all mixed up in our municipal waste release poisonous gases from incinerator smoke stacks.

While the experts tell us, don’t worry about that dirty air, “we’ll wash and scrub it before it is released”, a New York Times article in October of this past year reports, “even as a growing number of coal burning power plants around the nation have moved to reduce their air emissions, many are creating another problem, water pollution. Power plants are the nation’s biggest producer of toxic waste. Much power plant waste once went into the sky, but because of toughened air pollution laws, it now often goes into lakes and rivers or into landfills that have leaked into nearby groundwater, say regulators and environmentalists.

What do we say as organic pollutants filter into our ground water and acid rain falls and collects in our cisterns? This is the water that we shower with and give to our plants. These are the toxins that become part of our fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds that we then eat. To put it simply, that little bit of dirty air and water is now a part of your body. You are now the reservoir of environmental pollutants and toxins. Now you need some serious detox.

How do we measure how much dirty air and polluted water and toxic food we can tolerate before the risks outweigh the “benefits”? You don’t have to be an expert to figure that out, it’s not rocket science. Look around at your friends and family, look at yourself.

On this small island in the Caribbean where we supposedly have lots of clean air and water look at the incidence of asthma, respiratory diseases, cancer, heart disease, and elevated cholesterol in your friends and loved ones. Remember the lobster that you put in the pot and then put on a slow flame. That lobster heated up so slowly that it did not notice the heat till it was dead. So, who wants to be a cooked lobster?

For those of us who are not industry experts, lets review the facts. A corporate entity has convinced us to pay them to solve our solid waste problem and give us the added benefit of a little electricity to the tune of 2 – 3 billion dollars, yes, billion. The direct cost to ratepayers: over $3 billion not including environmental, health, and socioeconomic costs.

The experts plan to solve our problem by purchasing and using pet coke, a waste derived from refining crude oil to burn the trash from our land fills and create PRDF, pelletized refuse derived fuel, which they will then burn to create a relatively small amount of electricity. A lot of burning going on and we know what burning dirty coal does to air and water quality.

In this whole process they will also create 379,000 tons per year of toxic waste, fly ash, which we will then have to pay and beg to have carted off the island or more than likely the fly ash will stay on to create a hazardous landfill. We still have a big red mountain of toxic waste somewhere off the highway after umpteen years. I thought we were supposed to be getting rid of our landfills not creating more of them.

We are told that we must approve this preposterous proposition now, otherwise we will have to pay fines to the Federal Government for failure to close our landfills, and further more nobody can afford to pay their water and power bills. We are being asked to create Frankenstein to kill a skunk, but after the skunk is dead we will be left with a creation that will cost us dearly—not just us but our generations to come.

Let us be aware that in addition to $3 billion dollars we will be paying with our health and quality of life for our children and us. According to a new RAND Corporation report, elevated air pollution levels in California which has some of the most stringent air quality controls in the country, resulted in more than $193 million in hospital-based medical care between 2005 and 2007.

We will be paying with loss of property values. We will be paying with loss of our economic marketing strategy of ecotourism. Who wants to visit an island paradise with smokestacks in your face? Who wants to be downwind, and who knows which way the wind will blow?

Why are we going backward with old dirty fuels on the advise of corporate entities whose sole purpose is to make a profit? Have we forgotten the executives of Wall Street and the Banking Industry? Have we forgotten Sir. Allen Stanford and his duping of the entire island state of Antigua and its impact on us here on St. Croix? Do we really think that corporate America cares for our health and well being?

Here is a new plan. Let’s call in the real experts. While the rest of the world is moving forward with recycling, green technology, and renewable energy like wind and solar, we are creating a giant technology that is taking us back to the past. We must realize that we cannot continue to befoul our air and water, ourselves, and the very earth that allows us to live and breathe and have our being, without consequences.

Let’s call in the real experts to offer us new, clean, and affordable technology that will support our health and prosperity now, and for our generations. Let’s put solar panels on every roof and wind turbines where the wind blows. That will cut everyone’s energy costs significantly. When the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine there is geothermal from Nevis, and possibly St. Thomas.

Let’s upgrade VIWAPA and make it more efficient and reliable. Let’s recycle our waste and sell it for a profit. For 3 billion dollars, I am confident that we could do that and more. With 3 billion dollars we could fix a lot of problems, instead of paying through the nose to create more.

So what do you say when industry experts want to sell you a bill of goods? Say thanks, but no thanks, we have better ideas. This is not rocket science. It is common sense. Let’s start using a little bit of it.

Let us understand that we can no longer trust that industry experts care about our health, and well being, and prosperity ahead of their bottom line—profit. We can no longer afford to separate our morality from our business ventures. We can no longer afford to shoot ourselves in the feet.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “ an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” We are that humanity. Lets wake up and take action to stop the madness.

Cheryl Wade, MD, FACS

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