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[GreenYes] Why not pay landfills to collect methane?
MIKE MORROW SAID

I'm not sure we should stop tax energy tax credits to 
landfills.  Methane is a major greenhouse gas which is 
largely vented to the atmosphere in our part of the 
country.  Leachate recirculation with capture of 
methane for energy production can bring short term 
stabilization of landfills and reduce methane.

PETER ANDERSON REPLIES:

Mike-

    Bill passed along your note (below) to me.  
Obviously, IF organics -- the source of the methane -- 
continues going into landfills, then as much of the gas 
which can be captured should, and that which is 
captured should add energy recovery.

    But, that is NOT the same as saying we should pay 
landfill operators to do that.  We don't pay landfills to 
install composite liners, leachate collection systems, 
monitoring wells or to be sited away from perched 
groundwater tables.  We require it.  Why is proper gas 
management being treated any differently. And, if we 
acquiesce here, where does it all end. For there is not 
enough money in the world to "encourage" all of the 
correct environmental behaviors currently mandated by 
rule.

    This is all the more important in this context, 
because, number 1: contrary to public perception, 
organics cannot be safely managed when they are 
discarded in the ground in the first place.  Just as the 
European Commission has already done, the obsolete 
and hazardous practice of landfilling our food scraps, 
yard trimmings and unrecovered paper is a dangerous 
relic of the 20th century (see explanation below), and 
like throwing garbage out tenement windows into the 
streets of America's cities during the 19th century, must 
be phased out in the 21st century.

    Number 2: there is a simple, obvious and elegant 
solution that eliminates the need to continue landfilling 
organics: Source separate our organic material for 
composting, just as we already do for our recyclables, 
and use the product to help restore soil fertility to our 
land. Why isn't that being done now?  Because we in 
the recycling and environmental communities have 
permitted one subsidy to be piled on top of another 
subsidy until the price of landfilling has been so heavily 
subsidized that expanded diversion efforts can't seem to 
compete. This new subsidy for energy recovery is just 
one more straw to break the environment's back.

    Number 3: a close examination of the use of an 
earlier subsidy for landfill gas energy recovery which 
expired in 1999 shows that a substantial part of the 
subsidies went to those parts of the country where 
electricity prices are highest, and, hence, where there is 
no need to encourage energy recovery since it already 
pays for itself.  That is to say, the tax credit went to 
subsidize landfilling at the expense of diversion which 
competes directly with disposal costs. The all to blatant 
nature of the subsidy is further shown by the fact that a 
credit is also provided for energy recovery systems that 
have already been installed.

    Bottom line:

    >These tax credits are doing less than has been 
thought to encourage energy recovery from landfill gas, 
much of which will occur anyway

    >Regardless of that, the source of landfill gas-- the 
organic fraction -- is too difficult to manage safely in 
the ground

    > What the subsidy for energy recovery really does is 
make the real solution, composting, seem to be more 
expensive than perpetuating obsolete waste 
management practices.

    Peter Anderson

[GRRN will be adding shortly a new section to www.grrn.org 
on LANDFILLS, including such hot topics as:
-- landfill gas tax credits
-- the failure of Subtitle D 'state of the art' dry tombs designs
-- problems with proposed wet dump designs ('bioreactors')
-- problems with other mixed garbage processing schemes
-- why Europe is moving towards banning land disposal
-- alternatives to treating organics mixed with toxics
-- landfills and zero waste
     >> stay tuned... Bill S.]

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