Those who want to build trash-to-steam plants should pick a town with less than 25,000 people where residents are old, poor, politically conservative and Roman Catholic. That is the conclusion of a study commissioned by the California state Waste Management Board, which found people most likely to oppose such facilities are young or middle-aged, college-educated, liberal and Protestant.
The $33,000 study was prepared by Cerrell Associates, a Los Angeles public relations and political consulting firm.
The study advises builders of waste incineration plants that they will face less opposition if they put the plants near poor neighborhoods instead of wealthy ones.
"All socioeconomic groupings tend to resent the nearby siting of major (waste disposal) facilities, but the middle and upper socioeconomic strata possess better resources to effectuate their opposition," the report says. "Middle and higher socioeconomic strata neighborhoods should not fall at least within (five miles) of the proposed site."
The report gives personality profiles of the most likely and least likely opponents of waste-to-energy plants, and suggests that trash incineration can be made more palatable by presenting it as part of a recycling program. The report outlines ways to defuse opposition. The report says waste-to-energy plant sites "can be suggested partly on the basis of neighborhoods least likely to express opposition-older, conservative and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Meanwhile the most likely opponents of a waste-to-energy project--residents in the vicinity, liberal, and higher-educated persons--can be targeted in a public participation program and public relations campaign."
The report says the ideal site for a waste-to-energy plant would be in an industrial section far from homes and commercial activity but within the trash collection area that would be served. It says: "Commercial office spaces and residential lands that are at least within visual, hearing or smelling distance of the waste project will likely experience a decline in property values."
Wil Baca, one of the leaders of the California Alliance in Defense of Residential Environments, which opposes trash incineration plants in populated areas, protested that the state Waste Management Board, in commissioning the study, sought to find out how "to deceive [people], to sell them a product they don't want."
It looks to us as if the ideas in this report are being applied across the country. Time after time, we see sites selected where people are poor or rural or both. Fortunately, we also see local people successfully fighting such plans, even making alliances across racial barriers. The fight against mass burn incinerators (and landfills) has become a powerful political force, forging new coalitions, strengthening American democracy in important ways.
The 87-page report, entitled "Political Difficulties Facing
Waste-to-Energy Conversion Plant Siting," was completed four
years ago (but only came to light last year when the LOS ANGELES
TIMES broke the story); copies may still be available from
Cerrell Associates in Los Angeles [phone: (213) 466-3445] or from
the California Waste Management Board in Sacramento [phone: (916)
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: cerrell report; poverty; environmental racism; cerrell associates; siting; incineration; property values;