October 19, 2006

CALIFORNIA: L.A. Solid Waste Task Force fights for Conversion Technology Reforms in Sacramento

If the recent passage of California AB32 (the "Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006") proved anything it is that there is considerable interest in revising the way the state addresses air quality, energy supply, and waste pollution problems. One hundred years of relying on fossil fuel combustion as the accepted energy paradigm has resulted in wasted energy and a super-consuming culture in which profligate waste is a status symbol.

It would surprise most Californians to learn that there is any debate that new technological approaches need to be developed and implemented without delay. Yet there is not only debate, but subterfuge and bad faith negotiating in the California State legislature that is frustrating the sincere, coordinated, and professional efforts of The Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Committee (SWMC) to move America's third largest city to a cleaner and more energy self-sufficient future.

In 1990, The SCWMC established the Integrated Waste Management Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of representatives from local government, the solid waste management and recycling industry, and members of the general public, the business sector and the environmental movement.

The Alternative Technology Advisory Subcommittee of the Task Force is responsible for evaluating and promoting the development of conversion technologies to reduce dependence on landfills and incinerators.

On August 18, 2005, the Task Force formally adopted the Subcommittee's comprehensive Conversion Technology Evaluation Report. This Report represents a culmination of 18 months of exhaustive and very expensive research conducted in conjunction with URS Corporation. This report is the first step in the effort to deploy a demonstration conversion technology (CT) facility in Southern California, in order to obtain real-world data on the impacts and benefits of these technologies.

Incredibly, instead of supporting California's largest city in SWMC's efforts to develop conversion technologies (CTs), the State Assembly Natural Resources Committee has ignored the findings of the report including its numerous regulatory change recommendations. No reasons given. Through two rounds of committee review (AB 1090 and AB 2118), this committee has manipulated its meeting agendas and funneled negotiations through unelected organizations with a vested interest in the status quo. It is a blatent attempt to wear down the Task Force of its energy and "starve" a chief lobbyist, the BioEnergy Producers Association headed by Senator David Roberti (ret.), of its war chest.

This blog has recently received a copy of a letter sent to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) in Sacramento confirming the frustration which the Solid Waste Management Committee of the Task Force has been experiencing - "Although California is leading the way, the development of conversion technologies in the State has stalled."

Through a Catch-22 of state regulations no CTs can be deployed in California unless successful air emissions tests are passed within the State. In other words, you have to pass a test in a facility you are not allowed to build - not even simply to run the test. Test results from outside the State do not qualify. Test results of similar technologies do not qualify.

One year ago three CT facilities - a pyrolysis plant in Romoland, California, a pilot syngas fermentation plant in Arkansas, and a plasma arc gasification plant in Richland, Washington - were tested for air quality emissions by the strictly independent Center for Environmental Research and Technology of the Bourns College of Engineering of the University of California/Riverside (aka, CE-CERT). According to Principal Development Engineer William Welch who conducted the report:

The pilot plant test results that we have witnessed and have evaluated independently indicate compliance or near compliance with air pollutant emissions regulations.

In fact, most of the emissions levels were mere fractions on the standards that are sought by the extremely vigilant South Coast Air Quality Management District. The one non-compliant result was for NOx emissions from the Romoland pyrolysis plant. The operators were unaware of the testing standard. Through modification of their syngas scrubbing process, the emissions today are well below the standard and would pass any test with flying colors.

Which proves a very important point. For there to be any advance in substantially changing the hazardous combustion paradigm, we need to deploy investment-worthy solutions, test them, refine them, and test them again. That is the procedure in most states. If the facility cannot be made to comply, it is shut down and the investors, the risk-takers, lose. At no time is the public at any risk.

Unless, of course, the status quo is left to persist - which results in keeping the public health in constant danger until other solutions are deployed. As the parent of four, one with chronic asthma, I have to ask - how can the inertia of the State government be good for curing the status quo?

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