The legislative process is an infinitely fluid one, but as Waste Age went to press in late May, the waste industry was expressing satisfaction with federal legislation that would create a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions and require utilities to use renewable sources of energy to generate electricity.
Known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) and introduced by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the bill defines both landfill gas and waste-to-energy (WTE) as renewable sources of energy. Furthermore, the legislation would not regulate greenhouse gas emissions from landfills or WTE plants.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is chaired by Waxman, began debate on the bill in late May, and Waxman was hoping that the committee could pass it and send it to the full House for consideration before the Memorial Day weekend.
The bill that the committee began debating contained some significant differences from a draft version that Waxman released in late April. In that version, WTE was not considered a renewable source of energy, and the greenhouse gas emissions of WTE plants would have been regulated as part of the cap-and-trade system. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., immediately voiced objections.
In a letter to Waxman and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, SWANA Executive Director and CEO John Skinner argued that WTE facilities should not have to be regulated under the cap-and-trade system in part because the greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved by the entire WTE process “more than offset” the “direct emissions” of the facilities.
According to Skinner's letter, the WTE process achieves greenhouse gas emission reductions by
generating electricity without using fossil fuels;
decreasing the amount of trash sent for disposal in landfills and thus reducing landfill methane emissions; and
recovering ferrous and nonferrous metals from trash, and thereby reducing the need for production from virgin materials.
Also, “a majority of the nation's waste-to-energy facilities are owned by local governments that have invested in this critical municipal infrastructure to achieve long-term solid waste management solutions,” Skinner added in his letter. “It would be inappropriate to force these owners to purchase offsets for greenhouse gas emissions that for the most part are biogenic in nature … Treatment of waste-to-energy as a source of greenhouse gas emissions would be inconsistent with internationally accepted science and accounting procedures.”
The Washington-based Energy Recovery Council (ERC), a trade organization that represents the WTE industry, echoed SWANA's sentiments. “While waste-to-energy has been recognized around the world as an important tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and as a renewable source of electricity, the draft legislation unfortunately fails to recognize its benefits,” wrote ERC President Ted Michaels in his own letter to Waxman and Barton, which also was sent right after the release of Waxman's original draft of the bill.
However, for now at least, both organizations should be happy with the legislation's treatment of WTE. (For more on Michaels' response to the revised bill, see “An Awakening Giant?,” p. 52.)
For the most up-to-date information on this legislation, visit the Waste Age news section.