Fresh Air

Senate committee adds recycling to climate change bill.

Recycling has a seat at the table in the federal climate change debate. Industry officials are applauding legislators' recent decision to include a recycling amendment to the Senate's proposed Climate Security Act (S. 2191). The bill has advanced to the Senate floor, and a vote is expected sometime this spring.

“The impact of this amendment is the recognition by the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee that recycling is one of many tools we can use to reduce climate change,” says Chaz Miller, state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), which was part of a broad coalition supporting the amendment.

In December, the two-part amendment, introduced by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., was approved by a committee vote of 11-8. It calls for a study of how recycling can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and would include recycling in federal grant programs intended to help states reduce climate change. A third part of the amendment, which included a provision for an offset program based on credits obtained through recycling projects, was stricken from the proposal due to opposition from environmental groups, Miller says.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) also supported inclusion of the amendment and applauded the committee's decision. “By all accounts and by every possible metric, the activity of recycling is among the most climate-friendly activities imaginable,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, in a press release. “This amendment enhances the role recycling will play in reducing and avoiding emissions of greenhouse gases. Recycling is prevalent in the United States, with both a private and a public infrastructure in place to immediately increase the recycling of materials as diverse as bridges, automobiles, pipes, office paper, tires, and computers, in addition to common household recyclables like cans, bottles and newspaper.”

John Skinner, CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), another member of the coalition supporting the amendment, says it's very encouraging that the committee passed the amendment. “SWANA believes that improved and expanded recycling practices can significantly reduce the emissions of GHG that contribute to global warming and climate change, and recognizing those benefits in federal legislation is a key step forward to increasing recycling activities,” he says.

Although the Senate bill has made its way to the floor for a vote, there currently is no companion bill in the House. Therefore, Miller says the chances of something passing Congress this year are very slim. “Even if the Senate passed [the bill] this spring, it wouldn't go anywhere,” he says. “I'd be very surprised if the House came up with something this year.” The House remains undecided about how it wants to even approach the issue of climate change, according to Sen. Carper's office.

Despite what seems to be an approaching roadblock for federal legislation, some companies have received recognition for their green initiatives from other parts of the government. In November, Rutland, Vt.-based Casella Waste Systems had its GHG emissions reduction goal approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The company plans to achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 10 percent before 2012 by building gas-to-energy facilities at six of its landfills, using alternative fuels in its fleets, deploying energy conservation programs at its facilities and implementing environmentally friendly practices devised by its employees.

“We have worked closely with the EPA since 2003 to inventory our greenhouse gas emissions and establish our reduction goals,” says John Casella, chairman and CEO of Casella. “Our 32-year history as a company has taught us that a commitment to protecting and conserving environmental resources opens up exciting and viable new business opportunities.”