In 2000, the EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council noted that waste transfer stations "are disproportionately clustered in low-income communities and communities of color." (see report)
In addition to nuisances like odors, "vectors" (seagulls, rats), and trucks (and their diesel exhaust), transfer stations are also a source of airborne mercury pollution from sources such as broken fluorescent bulbs.
Covanta's business model relies on controlling the flow of trash to their incinerators, since incineration is more expensive than landfilling and waste haulers, given the choice, would rather directly landfill their waste. Covanta's latest report to shareholders states:
"Our growth opportunities include: organic growth, new energy-from-waste and other renewable energy projects, existing project expansions, contract extensions, acquisitions, and businesses ancillary to our existing business, such as additional waste transfer, transportation, processing and disposal businesses." (Source: 2014 Covanta 10K filing, p.94)
Covanta already owns three transfer stations in the Philadelphia area (two in Philadelphia, one in Abington), controlling much of the flow of Philadelphia trash, directing it to their incinerators.
In Niagara Falls, NY, Covanta asked for (and received) six times the rail spur capacity needed to fulfill the contract with New York City that has 500,000 tons of waste per year coming by train to Niagara Falls, and an equal amount coming to their incinerator in Chester, PA. The only reason to ask for such excess capacity is if they plan to use the rail spur into their incinerator to take more waste than they can process, operating as a transfer station that can move waste from trains to trucks, in order to haul it to their many other incinerators within the region.
Covanta's 700-page contract with New York City would steer enough waste to their Chester incinerator to fill up their unused capacity and likely have enough extra capacity to transfer waste. See this chart, based on Covanta's reported waste volumes to the PA Department of Environmental Protection:
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