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[GreenYes] Landfill Subsidies
fyi AP wire story below-

    Please note that the GOP energy bills described in the AP story below contain something else of key importance to recyclers and the environment that is not generally recognized, along with the more prominent (and disturbing) provision opening part of the Arctic National Wildlife to oil drilling.

    That issue which could lead to a long term "death spiral" decline in recycling is the seemingly arcane provision renewing and expanding subsidies that had expired in 1998 for energy recovery from methane gas formed by decomposing organic matter and partially captured at landfills.

    Landfill subsidies are of key importance to recyclers because recovery competes against disposal.  Recycling "came alive" in the 1980's after its 20 year somnolence following the first Earth Day not just because of the renewed awakening of environmental consciousness in the wake of the saga of the Mobro garbage barge, but also because tipping fees had then rapidly increased into the $30/ton range. Also, in view of the perception of a landfill supply crisis, the fees were thought to be headed into the stratosphere.  

    While we do not yet have firm figures, these types of subsidies can be quite significant, cumulatively in the order of $5/ton or even more.  This is on top of another highly technical wrinkle on the landfill arena that, to our regret, passed beneath our notice at the time.  Major waste companies sought and received permission to build landfills hundreds of feet high, even though there never had been adequate engineering review to support this change.  

    Why is this important? Because that meant that twice as much waste could be emplaced above, essentially, the same underlying infrastructure of bottom liners, leachate collection systems and monitoring wells.  As a result, the unit cost of waste disposal (including ample profits) plummeted from the mid $30's per ton, to below $20/ton, all due to this externalized environmental subsidy in that the form landslides that we have seen and will continue to see create major pollution headaches. (Then, too, there's the whole additional story, which I will describe separately next, of environmental threats that so-called dry-tomb -- or bioreactor -- landfills pose separate from the height issue.)

    Here we must remember that recycling was originally built on a foundation of competition against disposal of $30-$40/ton. Recycling's revenues are insufficient to pay for its expenses without subtracting the tipping fees that are avoided. Then we can get a more complete picture of why further tax subsidies on top of the environmental subsidies toll a Chinese water torture-style death knell for recycling over the long haul. This will parallel what we saw with the solar and conservation energy programs in the 1980's when the economics turned against that sustainable industry and it collapsed.

    If -- and I do not concur in this -- landfills are permitted to continue accepting decomposable matter (Europe is phasing out this obsolete practice), and if energy recovery from the resultant landfill gas is considered to be an important element of America's energy policy, then it should be mandated, not subsidized.

    For, even taken on its own terms, there is no logical case for the subsidy once two things are recognized:

    (1)  The piping systems used to capture landfill gases are not installed and become operational for years after waste emplacement, and even then are not thought to capture even half of the total gases released (no hard field data has been compiled to give a firm number). That is to say, half or more of the gases are released to become greenhouse gases that, even using these pencil calculations which probably understate the problem, contribute 4% of the US climate change gases.

    (2) Source separate food waste and unrecovered paper (the primary source of decomposition and gas generation in landfills) instead of landfilling them, and in-vessel anerobic composting can be used to capture 100% of the potential methane generation all converted for energy generation, without sending half into the atmosphere where it will contribute to climate change.

    The recycling community needs to galvanize to fight these issues if it is to survive to help protect the environment. You can believe that the waste industry is well organized to present its views.


GOP energy bill 'industry friendly'
WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Republicans introduced an industry-friendly energy bill Monday, calling the nation's energy problems the greatest threat to economic growth. They promised action by summer. The bill, already sharply criticized by many Democrats, calls for opening an Arctic wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil drilling and would provide tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives or regulatory relief to the oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear industries. The legislation also would expand programs to help low-income families cope with energy bills, provide new tax incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and provide a tax break for buying ultra-efficient cars, homes and appliances. A broad spectrum of industry - from manufacturers and small business groups, to timber, mining and energy interests - applauded the legislation as a first step toward boosting energy supplies. Most environmentalists and energy-efficiency proponents said the legislation was too heavily focused on production rather than conservation and favored polluters. 

Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100/Fax (608) 233-0011

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