Dallas has long had a goal of becoming a “zero-waste” city, in which recycling and composting replace the burial of trash. After a rocky start, City Hall appears to have devised a plan to start on that path.
A City Council committee on Monday unanimously recommended a long-term master plan for waste that could require making recycling available not only for single-family homes but also for businesses and apartment complexes. It will go before the full council Wednesday.
The plan stopped short, however, of calling for a ban on products, including plastic bags and bottles, that add to waste streams. Kelly High, the city’s sanitation director, said the plan represents a compromise between environmental and business interests.
“Did everybody get exactly what they wanted? No, but there was full agreement there was substantial progress in meeting zero-waste goals,” High said.
Council member Sandy Greyson expressed concern that the city didn’t push harder on controlling plastic bags, plastic bottles and foam cups. The plan recommends that the city approach product bans through a separate ordinance. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said she has asked the city’s environmental office to study the proliferation of plastic bags in the city. The plan also calls for Dallas to perhaps support state action on bags and bottles.
“That’s not very proactive,” Greyson said.
The plan does make one major improvement over a prior plan — it actually included public input. A plan submitted last year made a show of reaching out to stakeholders through an “advisory committee.” But interviews with people appointed to the committee revealed that it was a shell that met just twice, with few committee members showing up either time.
Outreach has been wider and sustained since. And key stakeholders from business and environmental groups have agreed to meet quarterly.
The new plan also sets clearer timelines for major goals, the most important of which is getting apartments and businesses recycling regularly. This remains a source of controversy. Apartments and businesses have their trash collected by private companies, not by the city. Many offer no recycling at all. Doing so would be expensive and difficult, many apartment owners say.
The plan calls for the city to gradually move toward a “universal recycling ordinance,” one that would make recycling available for homes, businesses, apartments and condominiums. At this point, the city is recommending that businesses and apartments voluntarily recycle until 2019. Only then, if voluntary recycling isn’t at an acceptable level, would recycling become mandatory.
Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment said the voluntary period should run only through 2015. Still, he said, the current plan is better than the prior version.
Kathy Carlton of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas said apartment owners have formed a task force to study the issue. They will collect data on recycling and form plans for voluntary recycling programs.
Environmentalists are praising a new Dallas trash plan to be considered by the City Council Wednesday but some people who’ve worked on it still have concerns. A City Council committee endorsed the plan Monday.
It includes a goal of “zero waste” in Dallas by expanding recycling goals to businesses and rental homes that are not included in current city recycling programs. Dallas only provides curbside recycling collection to single family homes and a few businesses now.
“Dallas is only the second city in all of Texas to pass a zero waste plan for the long term and that’s great, that’s huge. That shows real environmental leadership on city leaders,” said Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment.
“The bad news is it isn’t nearly as strong as it should be,” Trahan said.
Recycling would be voluntary for rental homes and businesses until 2019 instead of 2021 as in previous versions of the plan. But even after 2019, expanded recycling could remain voluntary. Kathy Carlton with the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas said there are many complications for recycling at apartment complexes and it should always be voluntary. She said some complexes have no room to store recycled materials or place containers for residents.
“We are hoping to work with the city in a way that we can develop a program that will accommodate the needs of individual properties,” she said. Carlton said around 50 percent of Dallas residents live in rental homes that could be subject to the new rules.
“We try to avoid anything that’s a one size fits all type of mandatory program,” she said.
Eddie Lott with a Dallas company called Recycling Revolution said his firm provides services to all sorts of apartment complexes. His programs include large containers or blue bag recycling where residents sort materials and leave the bags for pick up.
“We have plenty of options,” Lott said. “We’re talking a couple of dollars a month per tenant to be able to offer recycling to the entire complex. It’s very affordable and it’s very doable.”
Excluded from the current Solid Waste Plan is a proposed Dallas ban on plastic grocery bags like some other cities around the country have adopted. Plastic grocery bag litter is common in Dallas and a ban was included in earlier versions of the Solid Waste Plan, but Dallas officials now intend to consider that issue separately as a possible environmental protection law.
“It’s better to have it separate from the solid waste management plan,” Trahan said.
Also excluded is a so called Flow Control plan that was to require all garbage generated in Dallas to be taken to the city’s McCommas Bluff Landfill where a high-tech waste to energy plant was proposed. Private haulers are allowed to take commercial garbage to landfills outside Dallas now and a judge granted the haulers an injunction to block Flow Control. The city is appealing the Flow Control injunction in court.
A Texas public utility reached a settlement with environmentalists that requires it to reduce emissions from its coal-fired power plant.
The Lower Colorado River Authority is a nonprofit public utility created by the Texas Legislature in 1934.
“LCRA plays a variety of roles in Central Texas: delivering electricity, managing the water supply and environment of the lower Colorado River basin, providing public recreation areas, and supporting community and economic development,” according to its website.
The authority owns six dams and five power plants, including the Fayette Power Project, a coal-burning power plant in Fayette County near La Grange, Texas. In a March 2011 federal complaint, the Environmental Integrity Project, Texas Campaign for the Environment and Environment Texas claimed that the authority had violated the Clean Air Act at its Fayette County power plant.
The Texas Campaign for the Environment, or TCE, filed its first amended complaint against the authority a month later seeking injunctive relief, and assessment of civil penalties, against the power plant it accused of violating federal emission limits. By June, the city of Austin had intervened for the authority.
Eventually, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller dismissed three out of four claims that TCE had filed against the authority, but he ordered discovery on TCE’s claim that the authority was violating particulate matter emission limits at the plant. The parties reached a settlement Wednesday in the face of a June 2012 notice of intent by TCE to sue the authority over its plant’s emissions.
Among the provisions of the deal, the authority must reduce emissions of mercury at its plant and use only clean fuels, either distillate oil or natural gas, to start up the plant’s burners after a shutdown. It must also install a continuous emissions monitoring system for the plant, and conduct “particulate matter stack tests” on each of the plant’s three units, while providing the environmentalists with copies of the results.
The authority does not have to comply with the emissions limiting measures until Dec. 31, 2013. An application for the plant’s federal operating permit must incorporate all the settlement’s stipulations on, or before, Sept. 13.
For their part, the environmental groups agreed to release the authority from all claims in their lawsuit, and not to sue them again over the allegations. The settlement does however reserve the Environmental Integrity Project’s right to oppose parts of the plant’s operating permit not resolved in the settlement. Any party can move to terminate the agreement once the authority incorporates its provisions into the operating permit. Otherwise the deal will automatically terminate on Dec. 31, 2018.
The authority’s general manager Rebecca Motal recently gave an interview to the Fayette County Record about its operations. Citing an Austin American-Statesman story that said the Fayette County Power Plant produces as much carbon as all the cars in Austin combined, the Record’s editor Jeff Wick asked Motal if Fayette County residents should be concerned about air quality.
Motal responded: “No, and here’s why. That is one of the cleanest coal plants in the state. A few years ago, we, and the city of Austin spent over $400 million to put scrubbers on the units. That plant is already complaint with rules yet to be enacted. We are committed to do the best for the environment.”
Trinity East wants to drill in the 100-year floodplain.
Supporters say: Other cities allow it with no harm.
Opponents say: It violates Dallas rules and is poor policy.
Two of three proposed drilling sites are on city park land.
Supporters say: Care and restoration will prevent damage.
Opponents say: It breaks repeated city promises.
A processing plant would go on a third private site.
Supporters say: It’s routine and needed for production.
Opponents say: It’s a huge, dangerous industrial polluter.
CITY RULES: They allow no gas refining except dehydration (removing water from gas). The proposed gas plant would also have amine-based removal of waste gases.
Supporters say: Both are allowed as normal production.
Opponents say: The city must obey its own ordinance.
EMISSIONS: Toxic and smog-causing pollution comes from wells and gas plants.
Supporters say: State and U.S. rules will prevent problems.
Opponents say: They haven’t and won’t; the air is dirty now.
What’s next: Plan commission, council to weigh in
-The City Plan Commission is expected to open public hearings on Trinity East’s plans on Feb. 7 but is not expected to vote until later. Members will first go see a compressor station or drilling/hydraulic fracturing and will hear expert briefings.
-The commission’s recommendation will go to the City Council. If the commission recommends approval, a majority on the council (eight of 15 votes) would be needed to concur. If the recommendation is to deny, a supermajority of council members (12 of 15 votes) would be needed to override the recommendation and approve the plans.