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OEC Position on SOBE Thermal, proposed advanced gasification/pyrolysis project in Youngstown, Ohio

The Ohio Environmental Council has been closely monitoring the proposed changes to the SOBE Thermal Energy Plant in Youngstown. Prior to its acquisition, the facility was formerly Youngstown Thermal, a legacy coal-fired steam plant providing heat to many buildings in downtown. SOBE has converted the facility into a gas-fired steam plant and has communicated its intentions to develop a new advanced gasification technology to recycle tires, plastic and e-waste, ultimately expanding the project to provide electricity for customers in Youngstown.

Regardless of its source, methane, when burned, combusts into carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas and the principal driver of climate change. Whether the gas comes from a well, recycled plastic, or another source, burning it still produces greenhouse gasses. In addition, there is little evidence regarding the potential air pollution of the proposed advanced gasification technology.

The significant expansion of the facility will ultimately produce more greenhouse gas emissions than it currently emits, locking in long-term climate impacts. The significant unknowns regarding the advanced gasification technology proposed to fuel the facility implicate significant public health uncertainties for the surrounding community. Given these factors, the Ohio Environmental Council joins the voices of local residents, activists, and officials in opposition to the proposed future operations of SOBE Thermal.

Youngstown and Mahoning Valley have experienced a legacy of environmental injustice over the past century, continuing into the present. Whether from industrial pollution caused by the steel mills, a history of extractive out-of-town businesses, or the recent train derailment in East Palestine, the region has been hit hard. The communities throughout the region deserve a future built on renewable energy and sustainable economies, rather than fossil fuels and sacrifice zones.

To that end, the Ohio Environmental Council commits to amplifying the oppositional work against SOBE Thermal’s expansion plan while working with community organizations, activists, and elected officials to create a clean energy future for Youngstown. 

In the present, much of downtown Youngstown relies on steam from this facility for heat, and the community can’t turn it off overnight. At the same time, the city can develop a concrete, deliverable plan to transition toward a heating system powered by fossil-free energy. Expanding and retrofitting the legacy facility for the long-term does not achieve this goal. We look forward to being part of the conversation in charting Youngstown’s future.

Resources & Updates:

More information can be found at SOBE Concerned Citizens

Despite sustained opposition from residents and a 12-month moratorium on waste pyrolysis operations passed by Youngstown City Council, on February 14th the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) issued a permit-to-install for SOBE Thermal Energy Systems, LLC. The state’s decision is worrisome given the U.S. EPA’s considerable environmental justice and civil rights concerns outlined in an email to the Ohio EPA in September 2023. Click here to read our press release.

On December 21st, Youngstown City Council passed legislation that establishes a pause on any facility that converts, or attempts to convert, pyrolysis, gasification or combustion of tires, plastics and electronic waste in the city — specifically the proposed future operations of SOBE Thermal.

OEC Northeast Ohio Regional Director, Christopher Colón, spoke in favor of the pause at the Youngstown City Council meeting on December 21st.

In early September, 2023, we submitted technical comments to the Ohio EPA laying out why they must deny or significantly modify Permit No. P0132799 pertaining to the SOBE Thermal Energy Systems, LLC.

Our Northeast Ohio Regional Director, Christopher Colón, also spoke at a meeting held by Ohio EPA in August, 2023 regarding the plant.

To learn more about the environmental justice concerns of the Ohio Environmental Council, Black Environmental Leaders Action Fund, and the US EPA click here.

This feature from WFMJ presents viewpoints from both sides of the issue and highlights many of the concerns local resident have brought. Also speaks to the CEO’s tactics and attitude towards local efforts.