By Tequila Smith, Chief Sustainability Officer, Covanta
New Jersey’s new Environmental Justice law will soon be put into full effect with the intention of protecting communities – often low-income, Black and brown neighborhoods – from bearing a disproportionate amount of industrial sources of pollution.
Covanta continues to be a staunch supporter of this new Environmental Justice legislation. In fact, we take pride knowing we were the only company in the industry to publicly do so when it was introduced in 2020. We are in lockstep with Environmental Justice advocates who say the effort to ease the burden on these communities is long overdue.
That may come as a surprise to some. It shouldn’t.
More than a decade ago, Covanta was the first company in the industry to create an Environmental Justice pledge, which served as a national model for how industry should support and engage with its community stakeholders in a fair and equitable manner. This became a guiding principle for our company in all our operational and environmental decision making.
When it comes to supporting local communities, there is nothing more important than tenets like investment, innovation, transparency and engagement. Earlier this year, Newsweek recognized Covanta among the top 10 percent of America’s Most Responsible Companies – those who “take their environmental and social responsibilities as citizens of the country and of the world more seriously than others.”
We are invested in and care about each community that we serve. We know our facilities can be intimidating – with an industrial look and prominent chimney stack, but we are a sustainable solution for the waste that remains after efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle have taken place. For instance, did you know that our operations are the only major source of energy that is carbon negative? This is because waste-to-energy facilities manage our trash at the same time they generate electricity, preventing climate damaging methane emissions at landfills and recovering resources like metals. We are critical in the world’s zero waste-to-landfill future, which is all about reducing waste and beneficially reusing the waste we do generate.
We are a are an easy target for environmentalists and paid activists, some of whom do not even live in New Jersey or the places where they protest; whose activism appears more financially-motivated than issues-driven with salaried positions for opposing companies and no incentive to come to the table and find mutually beneficial compromise. We all want positive change, but cutting off communication between these groups and companies, like Covanta, is no way to effect change. Intentionally striving to instill fear without facts will bring about neither positive change nor Environmental Justice. Instead, it only serves to seed mistrust and discordance while feeding a highly charged and false narrative that misleads local community members. Real Environmental Justice requires taking meaningful and measurable actions to listen, empower and protect the communities we serve; after all, they are our communities too and are where our employees and their families live, work and play.
The new Environmental Justice law will have a particularly important bearing on communities such as Camden and Newark’s Ironbound section, which is surrounded by one of the world’s busiest airports, an entanglement of major interstate highways, heavy tractor trailer traffic and power plants.
We believe all emissions, from all sources in the community, must be considered and addressed, starting with the largest sources first as they represent the greatest opportunity for measurable improvement.
While our facilities are small contributors of emissions in these communities, we take responsibility, and we recognize it is important to reduce emissions where we can. We work to be transparent in our operations, and post continuous emissions monitoring on our websites for all three of our New Jersey waste-to-energy facilities. This is the very same data used for compliance by both the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and us to ensure we meet the state’s stringent environmental regulations.
Even though we already operate well below permissible environmental limits, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in air pollution control upgrades, with a focus on those in historically burdened communities. The $90 million in state-of-the-art emissions control technology at our facility in Newark has resulted in drastically improved environmental performance of the facility — reducing some emissions by more than 90%. We likewise have invested more than $55 million in our Camden facility in maintenance and capital to improve the operations and have plans for installing new state of the art emissions controls at a cost of $60 million plus to improve environmental performance. We know progress toward real Environmental Justice is not just about financial investments. It’s also about being consistently engaged and supportive neighbors. And we work to find many ways to do that – from partnering with faculty at St. Benedict’s Prep to create environmental science and sustainability curriculum for students to working with the New Jersey Audubon Society to plant pollinator gardens in Camden and Rahway. We process e-waste and unused prescription drugs to keep them out of our water and out of our communities where they could be harmful.
In all we do, we look for sustainable solutions to elevate the communities we serve. Despite efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, New Jersey is still generating more waste than ever. We see this waste as a resource – something that can be used to help provide energy for our communities
The time has come for responsible, sustainable solutions that promote Environmental Justice and protect our neighbors and our planet. And we are here for it.
This is sponsored content from Covanta
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