From waste management to street sweeping, municipal fleets are increasingly faced with political pressures (in addition to state and federal mandates) to be more environmentally friendly. Similarly, solid waste facilities are seeking cleaner, more efficient ways to be self-sustaining. Source: Ken Simonson, chief economist of the Associated General Contractors of America, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Climate change presents a dual opportunity for municipal solid waste managers.

On the one hand, it's renewing interest in waste-to-energy (WTE) projects and technologies capable of converting waste into products and fuels, prompting several of the 90 or so WTE facilities in North America to expand. More than 420 landfills recover and convert landfill gas into usable energy; government incentives could fund about 570 new recovery projects in the next few years that would produce up to 1,370 MW of energy.

On the other hand, it's causing regulatory agencies to more closely monitor operations. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the U.S. EPA's authority to control emissions, and nearly a dozen states have set goals to reduce emissions by as much as 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

WTE facilities may face reduction mandates, while landfills may be more extensively regulated to reduce methane emissions. Mandates for energy-efficient recycling may be more extensively imposed.

So the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is monitoring several bills that are likely to be reconsidered by the 111th Congress, which convenes this month:

  • The Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Incentives Act of 2007 (S 1531), which was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance in May, would extend renewable energy production and usage incentives for 10 years, allowing facilities to be placed in service until Jan. 1, 2019.
  • Both landfill gas and WTE projects qualify for this credit, as do facilities under construction before the expiration date but which are producing and selling electricity within two years of the expiration date.

    The bill also would extend the Section 54 Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) Program, for which landfill gas and WTE facilities are eligible, for 10 years.

  • HR 197/S 411, which seeks to amend the Internal Revenue Code to extend though 2013 the Section 45 tax credit for producing electricity from certain facilities using renewable resources, including landfill gas and waste-to-energy, thus allowing the same credit rate for all renewable resource facilities.
  • As the debate over emissions continues, managers should conduct a “greenhouse gas inventory” of operations to identify sources and estimate their emissions, says John Skinner, SWANA's executive director and CEO.

    “All vehicle emissions, combustion sources, and other processes that generate greenhouse gases should be included,” he explains. “That would ... serve as the comparative basis for future emission reduction efforts.”

    At the state level, California continues to lead the nation in establishing mandates to reduce emissions. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 requires facilities that emit significant amounts — including landfills — to adopt regulations by Jan. 1, 2011 (see page 37). California also is one of more than two dozen states that require electric utilities to use more renewable resources. Some states have followed California's lead. In Minnesota, for example, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed that one quarter of the state's energy needs be derived from renewable sources by 2025, requiring more than 5,000 MW of renewable projects.