Under pressure from community and environmental activists, the Young administration today said the city will appeal last month’s federal court decision striking down the Baltimore Clean Air Act.
“I have recommended to Mayor Young that the city appeal Judge Russell’s decision in the Wheelabrator case regarding the city’s Clean Air Act,” acting City Solicitor Dana P. Moore told The Brew this morning.
“He has concurred and authorized me to proceed,” she said.
Moore said she entered her appearance in the case this morning and directed outside counsel to file a notice of appeal.
The decision came just as activists were mounting an Earth Day “die-in” protest on Russell Street near the Wheelabrator BRESCO incinerator, Baltimore’s biggest source of industrial air pollution.
News of the mayor’s decision broke after they concluded.
Protest organizers applauded the city’s announcement, saying much is at stake in the battle to get the city to defend the Clean Air Act.
“It’s a very important way for us as a citizens to defend ourselves and our livelihoods against these polluting companies,” said Shashawnda Campbell, of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust.
The Clean Air Act was enacted by the City Council to improve health outcomes for residents. It imposes stricter limits on nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and other air emissions by large incinerators.
Wheelabrator and Curtis Bay Energy, a medical waste incinerator, challenged the new law and won a favorable ruling from U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III.
Russell said the law undermined the authority of state and federal governments to regulate air pollution. Wheelabrator has said it would be impossible to operate BRESCO profitably under the law’s emissions strictures.
Reacting to today’s news, United Workers’ Greg Sawtell said he was “proud of the work everybody from the grassroots groups to our City Council did to get us here.”
But he was already looking forward to the group’s next goal, to persuade the city to end its relationship with Wheelabrator when the contract to burn Baltimore’s trash at its BRESCO facility expires on December 2021.
His group is part of a broad coalition pushing the city to adopt a Zero Waste Plan that includes expanded recycling and compost programs, paying local residents to collect the material and other programs to promote community ownership of vacant lots and the salvaging of construction and demolition materials.
“The big question is, if we’re going to leave the incinerator behind,” Sawtell said, “we need to be taking actions right now that are going to enable us to do that.”
To Dr. Gwen DuBois, of the Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, shutting down the incinerator is an equity issue.
“We wonder why people of color and low income people suffer more in Baltimore from from pandemics and environmental injustice, and a big part of this is we need to close BRESCO, so that people who are downwind don’t inhale this, so that children don’t get asthma,” DuBois said, speaking at a news conference before the die-in.
“It’s not fair, not right, and we don’t need incineration,” she said. “There are alternatives.”
– Louis Krauss contributed to this story.