As many of you know, a U.S. Energy Bill was passed this December. I am writing to provide a few brief thoughts about how I think this Bill relates to issues of waste disposal, zero waste and community health. I encourage others to contribute information and their thoughts as well.
It is important to note that there are at least two other bills, the Farm Bill and the Appropriations Bill, that likely have some implications related to waste issues. I have not done an analysis of these two bills, but I hope that others on this list can provide more information.
H.R. 6: Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007:
The Energy Bill that was signed by Bush in late December was a very different bill than that passed through the House in early December. The changes made to the final Bill were both positive and negative. On the positive side, several provisions that contained dirty incentives for incinerators and landfills were removed. On the negative side, the provisions that were removed would have also provided incentives for real renewable energy solutions like wind and solar power. Increased taxes on oil companies were also removed. Finally, a few important provisions remain in the final Bill that may encourage increased municipal solid waste and biomass incineration and landfilling to produce fuels to power our cars, homes, and planes.
The Renewable Electricity Standard:
The renewable electricity standard (RES) that would have required 15% of the electricity nationally to come from ?renewable? sources was omitted from the bill in early December. In the face of a huge push from the incinerator industry and their friends in Congress, we were able to keep municipal solid waste incineration from being included from a main provision in the RES. This key victory is no doubt attributable to the many people and organizations that took action on this issue. This is important because there a good chance that we will see the RES reintroduced in 2008. On the downside, an often overlooked provision was included in the RES that would have benefited existing incinerators. In addition, biomass incineration and landfill gas were included as renewable resource in the RES.
The Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit:
In addition to the RES, a renewable production tax credit that would have been extended to the year 2010 was also omitted from the final bill. This measure would have extended a highly sought-after subsidy to trash and biomass incinerators, landfills as well as some truly renewable energy sources. In mid December, before the measure was removed from the Bill, the definition of incineration was expanded to ensure that incinerators in disguise like plasma, gasification and pyrolysis would have also qualified.
The Alternative Fuels Mandate:
A very important provision related to waste issues that was included in the final Energy Bill is the alternative fuels mandate. This measure mandates 36 billion gallons of fuel from so-called ?renewable? biomass by the year 2022. As part of this mandate, several dirty fuels qualify.
First, the mandate calls for ?renewable biomass? incineration producing fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. A few notable feedstocks that are included as renewable biomass in the general mandate include yard waste, food waste, animal waste and planted trees. To qualify as a ?renewable fuel?, technologies using these feedstocks must show that they can produce fuels with lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are 20 percent less than that of petroleum. Facilities producing ethanol from biomass and/or natural gas automatically qualify as having 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions then petroleum through 2009. It is important to note that anaerobic digestion of these materials for the purpose of generating fuels would likely qualify for the mandate.
Second, the mandate calls for 21 billion gallons by 2022 of so-called ?advanced renewable biofuels? that can include incinerators that mix ?a petroleum feedstock? with biomass to produce fuels like ethanol, diesel and others. It can also include landfill gas used to produce fuels. In order to qualify as ?advanced renewable bio-fuels?, they must show that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are 50 percent less than that of petroleum.
Third, the mandate calls for 1 billion gallons of ?biomass based diesel? by 2012 that can be derived from municipal solid waste incineration and wastewater sludge incineration (as defined in the Energy Policy Act of 1992), among other feedstocks. In order to qualify as ?advanced renewable bio-fuels?, they too must show that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are 50 percent less than that of petroleum.
As a result of the alternative fuels mandate and the federal grants that will accompany it, we may see a growing push to build incinerators and landfills specifically to generate fuels. Incinerators and landfills are not the highest or best use for any of these materials. These technologies bring serious health, economic and climate dangers to communities.
What this means moving forward:
In general, many of our key fights will carry over into 2008. It will be increasingly important to get institutions like the EPA to dramatically improve their lifecycle analysis of the true climate costs for disposing of resources. Currently, the EPA WARM model used to calculate lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for different waste management options has several shortcomings. If calculated properly, incineration and landfilling should not qualify for the renewable fuels mandate.
In addition, a growing fight to keep all of these dirty incentives out of both the Renewable Electricity Standard and the Renewable Production Tax Credit will be particularly important with the possibility that these two measures will be reintroduced in 2008. The omission in the Bill of these provisions gives us an opportunity to regroup, and strengthen our efforts to keep incentives for incinerators, landfills and other dirty technologies out of federal and state policy.
Finally, we also have an opportunity to strengthen our efforts to call for more substantial incentives for real renewable energy like wind and solar power, energy efficiency, and energy conserving zero waste strategies like getting organic materials out of incinerators and landfills, as well as strengthening waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting and product redesign.
I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year without incineration!
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
(510)883-9490 ext. 102