Three municipalities are banding together to demand more information about the proposal to burn plastic at Lehigh Northeast Cement Co.
Queensbury, Glens Falls and South Glens Falls are asking DEC for an informational hearing on raggertail, a plastic-paper mix that could be burned as fuel at Lehigh.
They have already gotten a favorable response. DEC said late Tuesday that agency officials are encouraging Lehigh to hold a public information meeting. They expect an answer within days.
Many in the area are alarmed at the idea of burning plastic, and South Glens Falls Village Board members have raised questions that so far are unanswered.
On Monday, Queensbury Supervisor John Strough had questions of his own. He wants to know whether burning raggertail is cleaner than burning natural gas.
“My concern is that natural gas is a cleaner fuel source that’s less polluting. Do I know it’s better than raggertail? No,” he said.
That could be explained at an informational hearing.
Strough and Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall are in a tricky position over the issue: The cement company spans the city-town border and is located partly in both municipalities.
“I want to be business-friendly,” Strough said, noting that the company employs more than 100 people in good-paying jobs.
Hall noted in a phone interview Tuesday that many other businesses also depend on the cement company, and he does not want to jeopardize all of those jobs, either.
But, Strough said, that doesn’t mean he should accept pollution.
“I don’t want to do anything until I do due diligence to make sure people’s health isn’t compromised,” he said. “What concerns me is this (county) has been identified as a cancer hot spot in New York state.”
Hall said the important thing was to contrast raggertail to coal, which the cement company occasionally burns now.
“That’s what Lehigh has to get across: They’ll be burning less coal,” Hall said.
It’s not fair to compare raggertail to natural gas, he added.
“Nothing is better than natural gas,” he said.
But how much worse is raggertail? And is it better for the environment to use discarded plastic as fuel than to extract more natural gas from the ground?
“Those are good questions,” Hall said. “I really want to continue to do my research. We’re trying to educate ourselves. We’re not scientists.”
DEC said raggertail is not cleaner to burn than natural gas.
Lehigh spokesman John Brodt said the comparison should be with coal, however, not natural gas.
“Lehigh is not proposing to burn raggertail alone, nor are we able to do so. The alternative fuel will be used, in a small percentage, in combination with coal or natural gas. This small percentage of raggertail will replace that same percentage of the fossil fuels,” Brodt said. “What’s important to remember is that Lehigh is required to keep its air emissions below the same strict limits regardless of what fuels are being used.”
A test burn showed that burning coal with a small amount of raggertail produced emissions “well below” the air emissions limit, he added.
“Burning raggertail with natural gas is expected to do the same,” he said.
DEC is taking comments through Jan. 10 on whether to permit Lehigh to burn raggertail as fuel.