The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution this week supporting the shift to 100 percent clean, renewable energy nationwide, but advocates for waste-to-energy (WTE) are disappointed that their sector was not included as an option and, in fact, was listed as one of the types of energy opposed.
The proposal calls on about 1,500 mayors to move clean energy forward in their cities as the Trump administration rolls back Clean Power Plan regulations and has announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which establishes broad global greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The resolution from the conference says, “Although cities cannot formally ‘join’ the Paris Agreement, it is increasingly important for mayors to commit to doing their part on climate action via aggressive policies and programs that reduce our environmental footprint while promoting a 21st century economy.”
“’Renewable energy,’” it states, “specifically excludes energy derived from fossil fuels, nuclear, incineration of municipal and medical waste, and any large-scale future hydroelectric development.”
Ted Michaels, president of the Energy Recovery Council, which represents the WTE industry in the U.S., criticized the categorization.
The exclusion of WTE “flies in the face of a myriad of policies adopted internationally and domestically at federal, state and local levels,” Michaels says. “It contradicts years of pro-waste policies adopted by the Conference of Mayors itself, including the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection agreement.”
Michaels points out that in the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection document, federal and state governments are urged to enact policies and programs that reduce global warming pollution relying on sources like wind, solar and biofuels—as well as WTE.
Despite the omission in the new resolution, Michaels does not expect the call to impact the industry much. The proposal, whose overall premise he supports, is simply a message of support for cities that want to go 100 percent renewable energy sources.
“They will still have choices, and those wanting to be progressive with their waste will have to rely on a combination of recycling and waste-to-energy to manage that waste and minimize landfilling,” Michaels says.
Environmental group Sierra Club lauded WTE being left out of the document.
“We are pleased to see that the U.S. Conference of Mayors excluded WTE,” Sierra Club spokesperson Shane Levy says. “Waste incinerators are disproportionately located in communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities, meaning that the most vulnerable communities … are at greatest risk.”
Levy also contends that WTE is not economically viable as an alternative electricity source.
As far as the question of how to otherwise deal with trash, he says Sierra Club supports alternative waste reduction measures including diverting and composting organics, and other steps to minimize landfill methane.
Meanwhile, California, Massachusetts and New York have established plans to drastically reduce fossil fuels. Hawaii is working toward conversion to renewable energy and, increasingly, municipalities are stepping up with pledges of their own.
Salt Lake City has what Mayor Jackie Biskupski says is an “ambitious but achievable goal” of generating 100 percent of the community’s electricity from renewable energy by 2032, followed by an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
“We are taking action to achieve these goals, and I am honored to join mayors from across our nation to lead the transition to clean, renewable energy,” says Biskupski.
According to a new Sierra Club analysis, 36 cities have committed to transition to 100 percent renewable energy, with the potential to cut electric sector carbon emissions by 19.1 million metric tons per year. If all 100 cities represented by Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy shifted to 100 percent renewable electricity, they would reduce emissions by 34.5 million metric tons yearly.
“Cities don't need to wait for Washington, D.C. to act in order to move the ball forward on clean energy,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a press release.
“While Donald Trump props up corporate polluters … mayors are showing that local leaders can and will lead our nation toward a healthier, stronger, and more prosperous future …” As the initiative gains momentum, Michaels says ERC and its members will continue the push to see WTE thrive.
“Waste to energy provides a baseload of renewable energy and greenhouse gas-mitigating technology,” he says. “It provides a sustainable solid waste management program for post recycled waste, and it supports cities that invested money in infrastructure.”