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[GreenYes] Action Alert: Tell the Minnesota "Pollution Control" Agency to stop promoting garbage burning

Minnesota needs your help:

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) recently (Feb 2008) issued a "2007 Solid Waste Policy Report" .

It contains extreme pro-incineration stuff (below). (Not stated is that the agency is also actively involved in handing out grant money to counties and local governments to expand incineration.):

The Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, wants to be John McCain's Vice-presidential running mate and is spending much of his time on the road campaigning ....

Pawlenty seems to believe that burning garbage can help stop global warming.  He's also a big fan of "biomass" burning generally.

ACTION ITEM:  Please take a look at the MPCA position (we've highlighted a few things in red) and send an email opposing it to:

        The head of the MPCA, Brad Moore:        brad.moore@no.address
         Governor Pawlenty:                                  tim.pawlenty@no.address
                                                              (Please send us a copy at amuller@no.address)

Some points:    

-       Incineration is unhealthy and makes global warming worse;
-       Incineration is not a source of "green" or "renewable" energy;
-       incineration is very expensive and diverts investment from better options such as "zero waste;"
-       citations to the growing literature on the undesirability of incineration ...;
-       a person worthy of being Vice-president of the US would not be promoting incineration.

Thanks very much!


"MPCA's view on the role of waste-to-energy

The MPCA agrees that it cannot be silent on such a high-profile issue, particularly following the Supreme
Court's decision in Oneida and following landmark legislation in 2007 on the urgency of building up
renewable energy sources and cutting down greenhouse gases. In fact,
MPCA believes that Minnesotans
can no longer afford to discard the energy embodied in solid waste.

After reflecting on the stakeholder [most opposed to incineration] responses, the MPCA offers the following point of view on the five
subjects listed above.

Air quality: The MPCA agrees that as a general matter ambient air quality is of more concern in highly
urbanized areas of Minnesota than in other areas. However,
urbanized areas in Minnesota generally have
better air quality than urbanized areas in the rest of the country.
The MPCA, local governments,
businesses, and citizens should pay closer attention to the wisdom of permitting any new sources of air
pollution especially in urban areas which already have numerous sources of air pollution. We should work
on solutions to lower the total load of air contaminants, and that should include emissions from cars and

Impact on recycling and organics recovery: The MPCA looked into concerns about WTE plants
interfering with Minnesota's recycling and organics potential. The stated concern was that such plants
usually require some form of "put or pay" commitments that guarantee a given daily tonnage of garbage
to the WTE plants, before investors will commit capital; and that the locked-in tonnages will discourage
materials that are burnable from going to recycling or composting. While the concern is reasonable and
must be addressed,
it is not inevitable that WTE hinders the recycling effort. Rather, residential recycling
rates have typically been higher in communities with contractual commitments to WTE facilities than
those without WTE.
It is worthy of note that the highest waste-diversion achiever in the European Union
is the Netherlands, which recycles and composts 65 percent of its waste but also sends 30 percent of its
waste to combustion.

One reason for this counter-intuitive state of affairs may be that committing to WTE plants has persuaded
those communities to pay attention to their waste rather than relying on distant landfills that are "out of
sight, and out of mind." For example, those that operate WTE plants look for ways to keep metal and
glass out of combustion chambers, because metals, such as aluminum that melts to slag steal heat from
the furnace, interfere with furnace equipment and then add to the tonnage of ash that must be managed at
considerable expense. One proven way to divert that metal and glass is source-separated recycling, which
keeps the materials out of mixed municipal solid waste, maintaining its value as a marketable commodity.
Even if Minnesota achieves MCCAG's most optimistic reduction and recovery scenario in 2025, rising
considerably above "business as usual" achievements already institutionalized, the quantity of mixed
municipal solid waste left behind and destined for either WTE or landfills is still quite large, totaling 2.2
million tons per year in 2025.
The MPCA recommends that waste growth be handled by means other than

Funding: Regarding the costliness of WTE plants, it is true that such plants are expensive to build up
front, and can cost at least three times as much per ton as the tip fee at a large landfill, due in part to the
high cost of air pollution control equipment. But this is only part of the picture. First, two business groups
have said that private investment could be available to provide capital costs. Second,
the cost per
household can be as little as a few dollars per month, or even the same cost per household, if best-practice
collection and hauling methods are used to bring down collection costs.
Third, the cost to build a plant
might be offset if market prices for fossil energy rise faster than they have historically.

Timing: Whether pursuing additional WTE is worth the effort to a given local government or group of
governments could hinge on the community's opinions about the best way to pursue the legislative goals
laid out in 2007, their judgment about the best means to achieve more renewable energy and to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, and also their opinions about the long-term risks of putting chemically and
biologically active materials into landfills, however well designed they may be.
Some communities that
have taken charge of their citizens' waste under state statutes have said that WTE combustion is desirable
because it can lower their long-term financial risk of being tied to landfills that might encounter problems
in the future.

Renewable energy status: The MPCA supports the continued status of WTE as a renewable fuel under
the state's renewable energy standard
as passed in 2007. Any plastic that goes into a landfill is energy
wasted, since no landfill extracts methane from PET or polyethylene. Further,
WTE has some advantages
to the power grid: most waste is generated near the centers of population, which is also where the bulk of
energy demand is located.
In other words, electricity produced near centers of population reduces the
need to add power lines to reach distant generating stations.
WTE plants serve as baseload, "must run"
plants in today's dispatching system and therefore complement wind power,
which has a larger ultimate
power potential but varies according to weather. Further,
WTE plants with "combined heat and power"
can produce process heat for factories, which is not practical for either wind turbines or solar cells.

Conclusion: The MPCA supports all aspects of the state's long-standing waste management hierarchy.
That hierarchy emphasizes the economic and environmental benefits of reduction, reuse, and recycling on
the upper end, and it also recognizes the need to extract all possible energy and materials from mixed
waste that arrives at the bottom end. No technology yet developed on a commercial scale has been able to
extract as much resource value from waste as the combination of aggressive waste reduction and source
separation of marketable recyclables, combined with a state-of-the-art waste-to-energy plant.

In summary,
MPCA's position is that WTE continues to play an important role in large-scale waste
management. WTE should keep its status as a renewable energy under state statutes.
The MPCA has
benchmarked with the world's best achievers in solid waste management and does not find an inherent
conflict between WTE and recycling, even at the highest rates of recycling achieved by states and nations.
Minnesota has included WTE in its waste-management mix since the 1980s and its recycling performance
is well above average for the United States and is on par with Germany. The pace-setter is the
Netherlands, which landfills only 5 percent of its waste, compared to Minnesota, which landfills 36
percent. If the Netherlands is taken as one example of how a region with both rural and urban populations
allocated efforts within its waste management hierarchy, Minnesota still has good opportunities to move
waste up from landfilling. (The Netherlands adopted its hierarchy in 1979, called Lansink's Ladder.)2

As Olmsted County has recognized in the management of its solid waste system, most recently going
through an elaborate public process to double the capacity of its baseload WTE plant in Rochester,
Minnesotans no longer have the luxury of wastefulness."

2 Lansink's Ladder has these rungs, in order of decreasing preference:
1. Prevention
2. Design for prevention and design for beneficial use
3. Product recycling (reuse)
4. Material recycling
5. Recovery for use as fuel
6. Disposal by incineration

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