CAMDEN, NJ — The Camden community has been invited to a virtual meeting Monday at 6 p.m. to discuss a proposed microgrid plan in the waterfront south.

Those opposing the plan say the microgrid itself is a net positive but not when it’s connected to the Covanta trash incinerator. County officials argue the plan includes long-lasting improvements to the incinerator but have yet to go into detail. 

And Covanta says recent public comments don't paint a fair picture of its facility.  

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Today's meeting, expected to run until 8 p.m., will be hosted by Camden for Clean Air and Energy Justice Network.

Off the heels of a pair of heated City Council meetings, much of the same group of residents and environmental proponents took to a school board gathering last week to say the city should rethink its plan to work with Covanta for the microgrid project — pointing to the harmful effects casted on Camden schoolchildren. 

“We're not opposed to microgrids, but definitely opposed to furthering the pollution,” said Mike Ewall, founder and executive director of Energy Justice Network, a Philadelphia-based national environmental justice organization.

Ewall outlined Covanta’s role as the largest source of numerous pollutants in the county, including lead. 

“We know it affects the ability to learn and causes behavioral problems in children,” he said. 

Local energy-saving microgrids work as backups to the main grid in case of a power outage. The proposed plan would require utility connections from Covanta to Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) plant.

If ultimately passed, Covanta would convert waste to energy specifically for the grid to generate said backup energy, and the incinerator would in addition no longer depend on water from the local aquifer system — instead relying on the CCMUA. 

James Regan, Director of Corporate Communications at Covanta, told TAPinto Camden Monday that Ewall's comment asserting the incinerator's place as the largest polluter in the area is "simply not true." 

"This is cherry-picking data from industrial 'point sources; and not giving residents the true picture of emissions in the local air shed. In reality, the facility is a very small source of air pollution," Regan said. "For example, the facility accounts for only 1 percent of the nitrogen oxides emissions in the local air shed of Camden County and Philadelphia, while trucks, cars and other mobile sources make up 60 percent of these emissions."

Regan said the studies the world over conclude that waste-energy facilities do not pose health risks to surrounding communities — instead, "providing vital sources of baseload energy and heat, important attributes of critical infrastructure."

"This is exactly what is proposed with the Camden microgrid project and the benefits are numerous," he added.

Freeholder Jeff Nash, also the liaison to the department of parks, has propped up the microgrid while acknowledging the incinerator’s environmental impact. 

Freeholder Lou Cappelli defended it further in a Tweet on Wednesday saying, “The project includes improvements to the incinerator that will significantly reduce the amount of the pollution dispensed.”

He said details on said improvements are forthcoming.

A resolution, which Ewall drafted with other organizations, was sent to the Camden school board last week.

Through the resolution, obtained by TAPinto Camden, the school district would, inform Camden City Council members, Mayor Frank Moran, The Board of Chosen Freeholders, the CCMUA, the NJ Board of Public Utilities and the Governor’s Office, “of the school district’s concerns about continued support of the Covanta trash incinerator.”

Immediately following the drafted resolution reference asthma as the leading cause of school absences. 

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s “Asthma Capitals 2019” report, asthma cost the US $82 billion last year, including $3 billion in missed school and work days.

Over 1,000 of the Camden City School District’s (CCSD) 6,101 students have asthma.

“I want to at this point share with you what we as a district are able to do and have been doing to address some of the issues related to asthma, even though that was not the direct focus [of the comment],” said Superintendent Katrina McCombs.

McCombs outlined ongoing plans in place to assist said students, including the role of nurses in district buildings and individualized student protocols.

While she did not directly discuss adopting the proposed resolution or a version of it McCombs said, “We will continue to work closely with health and community partners to continue supporting this health and well being of all of our students in the city.” 

Prior to the meeting, a number of groups posted a petition online, “demanding Camden City does not move forward with any plans which extend the life of this dirty trash incinerator.”

Said organizations include New Jersey Working Families, New Beginnings, Energy Justice Network, NAACP State Environmental's Burlington branch, NAACP Camden, Camden Leadership Initiative, and the Center for Environmental Transformation. 

“The disproportionate and unnecessary deaths among black and brown Americans from COVID19, especially in New Jersey, are in part due to decades of environmental injustice wrecked on communities like Camden through the operation of polluters like Covanta,” reads an excerpt from the petition.

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