November 19, 2005

CA AB 1090 - Ed Begley, Jr. Supports Conversion Technology

California AB 1090 is crucially important state legislation in California to amend language in solid waste regulations (drafted in 1989). The current language impedes the development of conversion technologies in this state. The new language in the bill would reprioritize the waste management hierarchy to include conversion technologies, redefine these technologies more accurately, and allow jurisdictions that use conversion technology facilities to obtain diversion credit toward meeting their 50 percent diversion goal.

Below is noted environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr.'s letter to Chairperson Loni Hancock registering his arguments in support of California AB 1090...

I believe in the sustainability of our planet and I attempt to live my belief by consciously reducing, reusing and recycling. In this “built-in-obsolescence” society, reuse and recycle have limits, as do our landfills, necessitating that we find alternatives for managing our municipal solid waste. As much as I wish that we as a society could “get it” and all of us reduce, reuse and recycle for all of our benefit, I recognize that to be an unfulfilled dream. The next best thing is to recognize that science has found an answer in the alternative technologies described in AB 1090.

Alternative “conversion technologies,” or CTs, are no longer a figment of a creative mind and even though R & D for turning trash into fuel is incomplete, the technologies for creating green power from MSW are not only proven but is in operation right here in our own state of California (the fifth largest economic power in the world). However, those advanced technologies are being restricted by antiquated language of AB 939.

These technologies will be better served by the expanded language of AB 1090. When Byron Sheer authored AB 939 it was truly a giant step toward sustainability for our state and it set an excellent standard for the nation; but after time change is inevitable. It is now time for that progressive scientific change. By allowing AB 1090 to move forward you can take credit for a leap to sustainability as well as reducing landfill emissions and dependence on foreign or domestic oil.

China and India are on our doorstep announcing their intention to out-compete the U.S. through their advancements in technology. Please recognize that the antiquated paradigm of treating solid waste as “trash,” i.e., burying it in the ground creating pollution in the air, land and water, needs to change. That “trash” is a resource, a valuable commodity completing the cycle of birth to birth/cradle to cradle.

I recognize and applaud my colleagues in the environmental arena for the benefits their efforts and work over these many decades of Earth Days have accomplished. Perhaps the lack of a defining difference between pyrolytic conversion and incineration has clouded the ability of the non-scientific community’s mind to understand the difference. We now have that specific definition as a result of Juniper Consultancy of the United Kingdom stating that “conversion operations MUST enable sampling and (to the degree necessary) cleaning of the intermediary products. This one step making certain that intermediary gas, liquid and/or oil products from bio-conversion can be sampled and cleaned as necessary, prior to their use, enables the critical information feedback loop whereby contaminate management can be implemented in process.” International Environmental Services, a facility in Romoland, California, whose technology meets this definition, has all its testing data on record with the SCAQMD including a preliminary evaluation on its Health Risk Assessment as being less than one in a million.

More scientific information provided by the Argonne National Laboratory, America’s leading laboratory for the study of emissions from liquid fuels, reports that a gallon of cellulosic ethanol, in either E-10 or E-85, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85% as compared to reformulated gasoline. Cellulosic materials include municipal solid wastes.

Please consider comparing the environmental performance of conversion technologies against other methods of recycling, such as smelting plants that are not subject to the same repressive statutory and regulatory restrictions. In addition, consider the economic impact on California’s labor force of exporting recycled materials to China, when they could be put to better use here at home.

When recyclers export materials to China, municipalities receive credit for diverting wastes from landfills. When green waste is used as alternate daily cover, these same agencies get credit; but if you use the same green waste to produce low-cost green electricity and liquid energy for California’s citizens, municipalities do not get a diversion credit. These inequities need correcting.

The positive environmental impacts of conversion technologies, therefore, are far-reaching. California needs domestically produced liquid energy. Its utilities need additional sources if they are to meet their mandates for cost-effective green power. AB 1090 requires that the California Integrated Waste Board approve each and every new technology. This is our safeguard.

The concept that today's waste streams can become tomorrow's liquid energy and electric energy supersedes all other solutions in our quest for energy independence. These worthy goals can be achieved through your support of AB 1090, which updates a statute written in 1989, and will enable the state to properly administer technologies developed in and for the 21st Century.

I urge you to support AB 1090 as written to create a greener California and a path to zero waste.

Ed Begley, Jr.


Anonymous said...

This is the kind of thing we need more of...facilities for utilizing energy in waste. Ethanol is probably the best liquid fuel we have, methanol is probably a good second choice.

When people think of renewable energy, they think of wind and solar, which are great energy sources but they are often considered to be too expensive and intermittent. Biomass is much more obscure...The general public doesn't realize that what they put in their trash cans and flush down their toilets are the answers to energy independence and lower GHG emissions. The problem is that the conversion technologies are a mystery to your average citizen, and people are afraid of things that they don't understand. Landfills are's a hole with a liner and layers of trash inside. Conversion plants are much more. If we propose to build a conversion plant, I think the politicians and public need to know how the process works, the benefits, and the downsides. From experience, I know that it needs to be dumbed down pretty far, since the basics of electricity production still remain a mystery to people even after they were taught in 5th grade science class!

C. Scott Miller said...

It requires leaders with a modicum of vision:
- Politicians like L.A. Councilmember Greig Smith who not only rails against the landfills but meticulously develops a multi-phase, multi-year plan that will solve the immediate problem and could very well transform recycling as we know it (see "R.E.N.E.W. L.A. - Jumpstarting Waste Reform in L.A.").
- Committed environmentalists like Ed Begley, Jr. who recognize that mere obstructionism is not going to get the job done - and he sees this seemingly innocuous legislation as a linchpin opportunity for lasting change beyond just California.
If the right leaders "get it" then perhaps the media and public will follow.
The great thing about ethanol is that we are already using it. California mandates that 5.7% of its gasoline consist of cleaner-burning ethanol (and we import 99% of it!). Minnesota is going to 10%. If we can use waste as feedstock for distilling cellulosic ethanol and generating electricity we can win on both the environmental and energy fronts simultaneously - and reduce our rapacious appetite for fossil fuels.