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EfW giant Covanta is challenged by the Environment Agency over permits

Global energy-from-waste (EfW) company Covanta faces uncertainty over plans to build and operate a resource recovery facility while it is looking for a buyer.

The world’s largest EfW operator was due to build an EfW plant and a materials recovery facility (MRF) at Rookery South Pit in Bedfordshire but has run into trouble getting environmental permits for the site from the Environment Agency (EA).

The issue has arisen because of Covanta’s stated interest in finding a buyer or partner. MRW reported last month that the beleagured firm warned it might withdraw from its UK operations.

A copy of a letter from the EA, suspending Covanta’s permit applications for the Rookery South facility, has been posted on the website of anti-incineration campaigners Marston Moreteyne Action Group.

The agency wrote: “It is apparent to us that there is no clarity over who may operate the EfW facillity - if a permit were to be granted.” Therefore, it said it was unable to proceed with the applications unless it received “adequate clarity on this issue”.

The EA’s letter was in response to a Covanta press release published on 10 May, which stated: “Covanta are seeking a buyer or a partner as one of a number of possible options following failure to secure a waste contract for the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority.”

The press release also said: “Once the facilities are built, Covanta would be interested in running them.”

But Fiona Penhallurick, managing director of Covanta Energy, told MRW: “It is very much our intention and expectation to remain as the operator of our proposed facilities.

“As such, Covanta has written to the EA asking them to continue processing the environmental permit for Rookery South.”

According to Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, the regulator must refuse an application for an environmental permit if the applicant is not the operator of the regulated facility and does not operate the facility in accordance with the environmental permit.

The EA outlined two options open to Covanta in the letter:

  1. Write to the EA to withdraw the application
  2. Seek written agreement for holding the application (without progress) for a period of no longer than six months, during which time positions with the sale may be clearer

Shlomo Dowen, national coordinator of anti-inceneration group UKWIN, said the EA’s awareness that Covanta planned to sell the facility before it had been built had backfired on the company.

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