The management of toxic ash from solid waste incinerators has split the
environmental movement and is threatening to alienate Congressional
leaders from their environmental supporters. We have a solution to
U.S. Congressman James Florio (D-NJ) recently introduced federal
legislation that would seem to solve a major problem for the municipal
solid waste incineration industry. (See RHWN #85.) Growth of the
industry has slowed because the ash from incinerators is so heavily
laced with toxic heavy metals that it often qualifies as a legally-
hazardous waste. Increasingly, investors and local officials are shying
away from a technology that transforms ordinary household garbage into
a waste that is legally hazardous. (See RHWN #83.) The "hazardous"
designation makes solid waste incinerators a political hot potato and
provides grass roots activists with potent ammunition for shooting down
dangerous trash-to-steam proposals. Mr. Florio's bill would strip the
name "hazardous" from incinerator ash, thus making it much easier to
site an ash landfill, thus removing a major stumbling block to
development of mass burn technology. Mr. Florio's bill would require
ash landfills to have triple liners (which the industry opposes
vigorously), but Mr. Florio knows better than most people that all
liners will eventually leak and that even triple-lined ash landfills
are simply the next generation of Superfund sites. Mr. Florio wrote the
Superfund law, so he understands how and why landfills fail, and he
understands the long-term costs of burying toxics in the ground.
When Mr. Florio held a press conference to announce his bill, he was
joined by a well-known national environmental organization,
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). EDF has been a leader on this issue.
It was EDF scientist Richard Denison who first blew the whistle on
incinerator ash, pointing out its hazardous characteristics.
People familiar with Mr. Florio's long record of good work for the
environment, and with EDF's, were puzzled by the apparent reversal on
this key issue.
We believe Mr. Florio and EDF are acting in good faith, but they seem
to have misjudged the intensity of opposition to mass burn felt by the
grass roots movement, which is fighting these incinerators as a matter
of life and death, literally.
In a recent meeting, Mr. Florio said his bill is better than no bill at
all, and it is better than a competing bill proposed by Thomas Luken
(D-OH), which would simply declare the ash non-hazardous and would
allow it to be dumped anywhere. Mr. Florio is right that the Luken bill
is a disaster. But grass roots activists would prefer that Mr. Florio
drop the whole matter. They believe the Luken bill is so bad it can be
defeated, and they believe the "hazardous" label on the ash is one of
the strongest weapons they have for stopping incinerators across the
country. Grass roots activists view the loss of the "hazardous"
designation on the ash as capitulation to the enemy. In this sense, Mr.
Florio and EDF are alienating their closest allies while trying to do
them a favor. Mr. Florio and EDF argue that their flawed proposal is
the best that can be gotten through Congress, and thus should be
passed. Grass roots groups view this as a fatal compromise and a
sellout. A situation like this calls for rethinking and a new approach.
In Mr. Florio's case the situation is especially complex. Some of the
Congressman's long-time political allies, partners, fund-raisers and
co-workers have recently left government service and have set up two
separate corporations to promote solid waste incineration and the
landfilling of toxic ash.
Mr. Florio runs a strong political organization in southern New Jersey
which raises the campaign funds necessary to get the Congressman (and
The players in this drama: Joseph Salema, went to work for Jim Florio
in 1972 right out of college. In 1974 he became Mr. Florio's
Congressional campaign manager. Mr. Florio won that election and he
named Salema his district manager, later his chief of staff. In 1979,
Mr. Florio waged war against the entrenched Democratic machine in
Camden, ousting Angelo Errichetti as king of the Camden County
Democrats. The Camden COURIER-POST says, "Although he resigned as
Florio's chief of staff in 1984, Salema has continued to quietly manage
the Florio kingdom in South Jersey."
In 1984, Salema quit his official staff position with Mr. Florio and
began a new life in the private sector. With former Camden County
Administrator Nick Rudi, and with U.S. Senator Bill Bradley's campaign
treasurer (in both 1978 and 1984), Peter J. Burke, Jr., Salema formed
Consolidated Financial Management Co. (CFM) whose major clients are
government agencies building trash-to-steam plants. "Using their
political contacts as well as the expertise they developed in
government, particularly in the financing of trash-to-steam plants,
Salema and his partners have also landed government contracts in
Gloucester, Morris, Bergen and Passaic Counties in New Jersey and St.
Lucie County, Florida," says Dennis Culnan in the COURIER-POST.
Other of Mr. Florio's close political associates and advisers have
formed a second company that develops trash-to-steam plants. Siegfried
("Siggy") Dahms, Mr. Florio's campaign pilot who succeeded Nick Rudi as
Camden County administrator from May, 1984 to June, 1987, recently quit
government and went into business with the county's former solid waste
administrator, John R. Purves, to sell their expertise in trash-to-
Mr. Dahms acquired expertise in the incinerator as county administrator
and as treasurer of the Camden County Pollution Control Finance
Authority, which was created to develop the trash-to-steam plant that
Nick Rudi had put on track when he was county administrator. Dahms and
Purves in 1987 founded Eastern Resources Management Co. (ERM). They
have a contract to develop a trash-to-steam plant for Morris County,
NJ. A July, 1988, press release from ERM says the firm is active in
Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Florida. The
firm "specializes in utility regulation consulting to
collectors/haulers," and now represents over 40 private firms in CT, PA
and NJ. It is now branching into hazardous waste collection, transport,
If something doesn't change, the grass roots movement will be badly
alienated from EDF and from one of its strongest environmental leaders
in Congress. We propose that Mr. Florio and Senator Bradley convene a
series of meetings with EDF and with a broad spectrum of grass roots
activists. Together they can hammer out a solid waste platform we all
can live with. Mr. Florio and Mr. Bradley can turn the platform into
national legislation. The platform can set realistic goals for re-use
and recycling, call for using the Toxic Substances Control Act to force
removal of toxics from the waste stream at the source (pollution
prevention), and give mass burn the place it deserves in any waste
management hierarchy--that of a desperate last resort, an admission of
solid waste management failure. Mr. Florio can begin to oppose trash-
to-steam vigorously. The meetings would build solidarity between
traditional groups and the new breed of grass roots activists, and
would give Mr. Florio and Mr. Bradley an opportunity to demonstrate
that they can rise above the petty snares laid for them by the poor
judgement of their political associates. It will offer them an
opportunity to demonstrate the environmental leadership we all so
urgently need in Washington, especially now.
Descriptor terms: landfilling; ash; msw; incineration; james florio;
bill bradley; politicians; corruption; conflict of interest; camden,
nj; democratic party; nj; pennsauken, nj; morris county, nj;