MEC, ZWD urge lawmakers to send waste-to-energy bill to the trash heap

Update 2: The Senate did not take up HB 5205 before the end of the legislative session, so the bill is dead (for now). Thanks to everyone who spoke out against this bad legislation and in support of real renewable energy!

Update: The House has approved HB 5205. Please join MEC in urging your senator to stop this irresponsible bill from moving any further.

The Michigan Environmental Council and Zero Waste Detroit are urging lawmakers to vote down legislation approved by a House committee that would expand the state's definition of renewable energy to include the burning of hazardous waste, warning that it would harm the health of Michigan residents and hobble the state's growing clean-energy industry


House Bill 5205, introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and approved this week by the House Energy and Technology Committee he chairs, would amend the 2008 Michigan law that requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. It would put scrap tires, plastics and hazardous materials in the same category as legitimate clean-energy technologies like wind and solar power.

The bill draws its list of fuels that should be considered renewable from a federal administrative rule that has nothing to do with renewable energy. In fact, the rule concerns how the Clean Air Act should be applied to facilities that burn waste materials, including hazardous waste with potentially toxic air emissions.

An amendment to the bill removed petroleum coke-an oil-refining byproduct-from the list of fuels that would be considered renewable. And some of the included materials, such as byproducts from pulp and paper mills, already were considered renewable fuels under the 2008 law. But the bill would add dirty fuels that create serious public health risks when burned. For example, it could include railroad ties, which contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer, and demolition waste including wood coated in lead-based paint.

Calling any dirty fuels renewable is in obvious conflict with Michigan's clean-energy laws and a threat to its growing clean-energy industry, said Chris Kolb, MEC president.

"It's frankly a little embarrassing that lawmakers are trying to pull a fast one on Michiganders with this proposal," Kolb said. "It's obvious to us that hazardous materials like old tires aren't renewable fuels by any stretch of the imagination, and we know that burning them could create serious health problems for residents. Meanwhile, real renewable energy is becoming more affordable all the time and it has created a thriving industry for Michigan. State leaders should be looking for ways to help that industry continue to grow, not pulling the rug out from under it by calling toxic fuels renewable."

The bill could open the door to new trash-burning facilities like the Detroit incinerator that has plagued the city with foul odors and contributed to above-average asthma rates among residents, Zero Waste Detroit advocates said.

"The awful garbage smells and polluted air from the Detroit incinerator are serious health and quality-of-life concerns for nearby residents," said Ahmina Maxey, community outreach coordinator for the coalition, which works to expand recycling and end waste incineration in the city. "This bill would only make things worse there and across the state. Lawmakers shouldn't reward polluters for making Michigan's air unbearable to breathe."

Maxey noted that the state has acknowledged the harm Detroit's incinerator does to residents' quality of life; in October the Department of Environmental Quality fined its owners for repeated odor violations.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill Thursday. If approved, it would move to the Senate.



 Photo courtesy Tim Parkinson via Flickr.

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