Massachusetts Ignores Public Concerns and Climate Change in Controversial Landfill Decision

Veronica Eady

Yesterday, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton decided not to require an environmental impact review for the Wheelabrator ash landfill in Saugus. The decades-old landfill sits next to a municipal solid waste incinerator on the Saugus and Pine Rivers and Bear Creek, located in a legally protected “area of critical environmental concern,” where it spews toxic pollutants into the air every day, particularly impacting low-income communities and people of color in Saugus, Revere, and Lynn.

Secretary Beaton’s decision means that Wheelabrator can dump another half a million tons of ash into its already brimming landfill, extending the landfill’s life another six years without rigorous review of its harmful impacts. In making his decision, the Secretary not only let down local residents, who have fought the landfill for years, but he also failed entirely to address climate change issues. Given that the site is in a flood plain – putting it at risk from sea-level rise and increased storm surges – this lapse is shocking and shortsighted. The impacts associated with climate change will happen – it’s only a matter of time. And when storm surges and sea levels rise, Saugus residents are going to be swimming in a toxic soup.

In his written decision, Secretary Beaton pointed out that there is still a permitting process ahead of us. Wheelabrator is required to get a landfill major modification permit authorizing them to take the additional ash from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In addition, the Saugus Board of Health has already voted to require a formal site assignment, a process that comes under DEP regulation and that allows local boards of health to determine whether solid waste activities threaten public health and safety.

The community submitted a petition calling for the closure of the landfill signed by more than 800 concerned residents, and it has broad support from environmental advocates as well as the congressional delegation. Senators Warren and Markey, U.S. Representatives Clark and Moulton as well as numerous state and local politicians have voiced their grave concerns about the landfill expansion and the need for an environmental impact review.

CLF is a founding member of the Alliance for Health and the Environment, a coalition of residents, public officials and environmental organizations seeking to hold Wheelabrator accountable for its impacts on public health, the environment, and public safety. We’re disappointed in the Secretary’s decision and will continue to advocate with our on-the-ground partners for a rigorous review of impacts throughout the permitting site assignment processes.

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