WASTE POLICIES which would make large incinerators such as the facility under construction at Poolbeg in Dublin unviable have been published by Minister for the Environment John Gormley.
The Draft National Waste Policy, released for public consultation yesterday, states as its aim a move away from landfill and “mass-burn incineration” towards recycling and mechanical biological treatment by using “all appropriate legislative and fiscal measures”.
The document reiterates the intention, already sanctioned by Government, to introduce a levy on incineration, but goes further by proposing punitive fines for local authorities who do not prevent waste from going to landfill or incinerator sites.
It also proposes moving control of waste regulation, licensing and enforcement from local authorities to a national agency, and scrapping regional waste-management plans in favour of national plans devised by the minister of the day.
Mr Gormley announced his intention to change national waste policy in 2007 on the day An Bord Pleanála granted permission to Dublin City Council for the 600,000-tonne capacity incinerator at Poolbeg.
He later commissioned environmental consultants Eunomia to conduct an International Review of Waste Management Policy. The draft waste policy is based on this review.
Speaking on the publication of the document yesterday, Mr Gormley said the policies were his vision of sustainable waste management, which recognised waste was a resource that could create jobs – “not a problem that has to be buried or burned”. The Poolbeg incinerator was “totally incompatible with this policy”, he said. In a statement last night, apparently showing unity within the Government on the issue, Taoiseach Brian Cowen welcomed the draft policy, saying it was “a welcome step in the process of deciding on a credible and practical policy for the development of a sustainable waste management sector for the next decade and beyond”.
The policy would prevent local authorities from entering into contracts for disposal of waste which they did not directly control.
Addressing accusations that he was withholding a foreshore licence from the incinerator, Mr Gormley said the application was being dealt with in the normal way. “It’s clear to me, frankly, that a PR campaign has been launched against myself.”
Mr Gormley also made reference to a ruling this week by the Competition Authority that the Poolbeg project was not in breach of competition law. The ruling was “not a clean bill of health” for the facility, and the authority had said there were issues it intended to investigate further. Legislation for the incineration levy has been well flagged and is now at draft stage. However, the document introduces a new financial constraint on “feeding” the incinerator through proposing that local authorities would be fined €50 per tonne of residual waste (ie waste that must be landfilled or incinerated) above set targets for households in their area.
The measures most likely to concern local authorities on a national level would be the transfer of control for waste regulation to a “single nationally administered arrangement” and the transfer of responsibility for waste planning to the Minister.
Dublin City Council yesterday said it would study the Minister’s policy, but that the Poolbeg contract was entered into in line with current Government waste policy and the current Regional Waste Management Plan. “Any proposal which might alter that policy at this stage could have serious repercussions for the Dublin region and thereby the State,” it said.