There are a number of ways to characterize the $50 million White Deer Energy Project that comes up for a public hearing this week for the first time since it was unveiled publicly in August 2011.
The company proposing the project at the National Gypsum Company facility in Union County states that it is a steam and power generation plant -- described as a green project that will add 30-35 full-time permanent jobs to the local economy.
A captivating aspect of the project is the proposed use of "tire-derived energy," meaning used tires will be processed and recycled into feedstock to fuel the plant.
Proponents have taken some pains to distinguish what they want to do from the impressions the public has about noxious old tires burning freely in a field.
It is a difficult impression to dispel. Coming into the public hearing this week, however, the company has explained in detail the investment in air pollution control technology, the compliance with DEP air quality standards and testing conducted by the EPA that found, under specific conditions, tire-derived fuel to be a viable alternative to other fossil fuels.
Grassroots environmentalists, under the umbrella Organizations United for the Environment, or OUE, oppose the project and are preparing statements and questions for the hearing. They have taken time to study the proposal and have posed insightful and pointed questions about how the underlying data is being interpreted to substantiate key claims.
On the environmental agenda for our region, the White Deer Energy project may be second only to the continuing public dialogue about gas extraction through fracking.
The manufacturers and the critics who have invested time and effort researching, defending and challenging the project since it was unveiled 21 months ago offer the public a genuine service through their presentations at these hearings.