Neighbors demand 'unjust' Minneapolis trash incinerator close by 2025

People in a few Minneapolis neighborhoods joined forces with environmental activists Tuesday to ask Hennepin County to close a trash incinerator.

The facility produces energy, but also pollution. Because of a new state law, the people who actually do are making a push to get it closed by 2025.

A steady flow of garbage trucks deposit trash at the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center. And a steady flow of smoke rises out of the HERC incinerator.

"It’s like a landfill but for the air," said neighbor Marco Fields.

Steam from the torched trash creates enough energy to power the adjacent Target Field and about 25,000 homes — and enough pollution to concern its neighbors.

"It’s an injustice for the people who look like me and my boys as we are forced to take the biggest risks," said Fields, who is Black.

A new state law took away the facility’s designation as a source of renewable energy.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released data from 2021 showing emissions including nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, lead, and mercury.

The HERC is a profitable operation for the county, but leaders say it stays well under permitted pollution levels, and they do their best to reduce emissions, but they know there’s an impact.

"Why have these impacts been allowed to happen?" asked neighbor Stephanie Booker. "Half of the non-recycled, non-composted waste in the entire county is burned in Minneapolis."

Dozens of neighbors came to a county board meeting Tuesday demanding a closure within two years.

Their signs highlighted the health impacts, especially on children, and a couple local doctors said they’ve seen the true costs up close in patients with heart disease or asthma.

"It’s heartbreaking as a physician when you see somebody coming in for something that can very well maybe be better managed," said Dr. Loretta Akpala, who specializes in family medicine.

As planned, county leaders didn’t respond to any of the comments Tuesday.

But some of them told us the main alternative is a landfill and that’s even worse environmentally.