Editorial: People have spoken on gasification plant; time to move on

7:11 PM, May 6, 2013  |  Comments
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The waste-to-energy plant proposed by the Oneida Seven Generations Corp. appears to be dead for now, until proponents can provide better assurance to the public that it will not adversely affect our health.

The Oneida General Tribal Council on Sunday voted against locating a gasification plant on the reservation in the Outagamie County town of Oneida.

This vote comes after efforts to locate a plant in Ashwaubenon and Green Bay met opposition. The city of Green Bay had invited the tribe to build a plant on city-owned land near the bay but ran into opposition as more people found out about the plant.

The Oneida Tribe of Indians-owned company wanted to build a plant in Ashwaubenon and Green Bay to process household trash at high temperatures to generate electricity. The Oneida proposal would have processed plastic in the same manner. Plant proponents say it would create 30 permanent jobs and reduce the amount of trash going to landfills.

The technology is intriguing because as backers of the plant correctly pointed out, we cannot keep planting our trash in the ground. And the economic impact can't be ignored as the economy continues to try to stabilize.

But opponents worried about emissions correctly pointed out that any plant that incinerates something, turning it to ash, will cause some sort of discharge.

Those who were unsure of the technology, including the Press-Gazette Media editorial board, had questions about the process, too. In an interview with the board, members of the Oneida Seven Generations Corp. could not direct us to a working plant, one where we could do more research and see how it was operating and affecting its neighborhood, except to say there were some in the U.S. and Europe.

We asked for specific examples and were never provided with them. A LexisNexis search found some discussion of this type of plant, including a similar proposal on Long Island to dispose of New York City trash, but not a working operation we could point to.

We also heard from some people who objected to locating the plant near them. We even received some letters to the editor in which writers suggested that if this was such a great thing, why not locate it in Oneida.

That didn't seem like a reasonable objection because locating the plant near the biggest trash producers, i.e., Green Bay, reduces transportation costs.

However, those letter writers got their answer on Sunday when the tribal council voted it down. A news release Sunday from the Oneida Tribe of Indians showed the tribe had many of the same concerns Green Bay residents did: "Tribal members have made their position clear - we have more questions than answers (about the gasification plant) - and until that changes, members are uncomfortable supporting the proposed facility."

Those questions include: Is the technology too new that environmental concerns can't be assuaged? Do those concerns have merit and aren't just the voice of the not-in-my-backyard crowd? Why can't the OSGC give concrete examples of where this technology is being used in the U.S.? And what are the details of the type of pollution that will be generated? Even if they are within the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Natural Resources, that doesn't mean there aren't any emissions.

Those questions need to be answered before this proposal is re-proposed.

The people of three communities have spoken. It's time for a different approach or to drop this project altogether.

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