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Money to Burn: 
The incineration industry's big dollars 
pollute more than the environment.

CITY SIERRAN: September, 1992



by John Klotz



Tis a puzzlement. Bridge-falling-down, pothole-plagued, 

schools-disarrayed New York City is planning to invest more than 

a billion dollars for incineration technology that not only 

pollutes the air, but simply does not work. With all the pressing 

needs for infrastructure investment, how is that both the Mayor 

and the City Council Leadership are so intent on shoving 

mass-burn incinerators down the throats of reluctant New Yorkers. 

The last edition of the City Sierran detailed the folly of the 

City's Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP). Let's take a look at 

why despite all its pitfalls, so many seem to have a vested 

interest in pushing it through. The answer seems to be one thing: 

money. Money to burn. 



The gargantuan incinerators of the SWMP will cost in excess of 

one billion dollars. Given New York City's record in the 

construction of public works it's a safe bet the actual costs 

could run to three billion by the time they're finished and that 

does not include debt service.



The real profit in building the incinerators is in the marketing 

of the bonds on Wall Street needed to finance their construction. 

It will be a field day for lawyers, consultants, underwriters and 

the like. Because the incinerators are bondable, they're 

buildable. The issue of whether their workable is irrelevant. 

Before the first shovel is turned, the politically connected 

attorneys and lobbyists for the incinerator industry as well as 

their allies on Wall Street will have pocketed as much as 100 

million dollars in fees, commissions and underwriting costs.



That's a powerful incentive for the financial community and those 

potential profits are used to grease the path of the incinerator 

projects through the political maze. Let's look at some cases in 

point.



Think globally, Corrupt locally.



A flagrant example of incineration industry corruption involves 

the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Waste Incinerator in the South Bronx. 

New York City law forbids the incineration of hospital waste 

except in a hospital-operated facility. The law was twisted out 

of shape by a group of entrepreneurs who convinced Bronx-Lebanon 

to apply for a license for an incinerator capable of incinerating 

hospital waste for the entire metropolitan region.



The project was financed by a fifteen million dollar industrial 

development bond two million of which was earmarked for 

"permitting fees." At least some of the money wound up in the 

pocket of the chair of the local Community Board who helped 

line-up support from local politicians. The scope of the plan was 

a well kept secret. When local activists finally got wind of the 

project and challenged it in court, the incinerator operators 

claimed that they had given the public notice of their plan - 

through the Community Board chaired by their hireling.



The community board chair's bribe is clearly illegal but it is 

small potatoes when compared to the "legal graft" surrounding the 

activities of Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel. As Koch Sanitation 

Commissioner, he was a powerful advocate for the incineration. He 

left City Hall for Wall Street and promptly became involved in 

packaging bond issues for municipal incinerators all across the 

nation. When Dinkins was elected, Steisel returned to City Hall 

as First Deputy Mayor. His reported profits from his private 

sector work on incineration ran to the hundreds of thousands of 

dollars. His firm made millions.



Although Steisel has allegedly recused himself from the 

incineration negotiations, his protgs in the Department of 

Sanitation and throughout City government have not. But the money 

trail doesn't stop at City Hall.



On to Washington



Crucial to Bill Clinton's early successes in the Democratic 

primaries was a wide lead he had in fund raising. As Arkansas 

Governor, Clinton sponsored several environmentally disastrous 

industrial development projects including toxic waste 

incinerators. The polluters who profited from the projects - 

particularly on Wall Street - responded to his early appeals for 

contributions.



This is no brief for George Bush, and there are ample reasons for 

environmentalists to support Clinton. The Sierra Club has 

endorsed him. But Clinton's early lead in fund raising was 

created in large part by individuals and firms who had profited 

from environmentally destructive policies in the state of 

Arkansas.



The money spent to garner political support continues its 

influence beyond election day. In heated political combat such as 

the recent struggle over the City's SWMP, the officials elected 

with the support of big money are able to bring pressure and 

offer inducements to potential opponents. Thus 33 City Council 

members vow to oppose incineration but only 15 vote against. 

David Dinkins elected on an anti- incineration platform uses to 

the power of his office to destroy the opposition to 

incineration.



For environmentalists, as they pick themselves off the floor from 

the disheartening loss in the City Council, to despair is 

understandable. But, it is not necessary.



An analogy.



One of the more fatuous claims of the Bush administration is that 

its cosmic overspending on defense brought down the Soviet Union. 

But Soviet tyranny was defeated not by tanks and airplanes but by 

the VCR, the microcomputer and the Xerox machine. In the 

information age, closed societies are doomed.



The financial power of the incineration industry seeks to create 

another kind of society closed to the truth. It's the 

environmentalist's task to use the tools of the information age 

to keep our nation open to the truth.

Incineration is not only an issue in New York. Mass burn and 

toxic incineration projects span the state and nation. There are 

activists fighting the incinerators in many communities across 

the nation. We must reach out to each other.



In New York City, we can take example and heart from the defeat 

of Westway, which was backed by an even more formidable array of 

power.



Yet, there is another example of citizen involvement and action. 

Incineration is not just the new Westway, it is the new Viet Nam. 

The toxic air generated by the incinerators will bring pain and 

suffering just as surely as bullets from an assault rifle. It may 

take longer, the effects may be more subtle, but ultimately, the 

suffering will be just as real. The victims will be everywhere.



John Kennedy, when he was inaugurated President, said that on 

this earth, God's work must be our own.



True then, true now.
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