December 21, 2005

Californians Struggle Over Conversion Technology

The Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Committee/ Integrated Waste Management Task Force is responsible for coordinating the development of all major solid waste planning documents prepared for the County of Los Angeles and its 88 cities in Los Angeles County. Consistent with these responsibilities and to ensure a coordinated and cost-effective solid
waste management system in Los Angeles County, the Task Force also addresses issues impacting the system on a Countywide basis. The Task Force has been steadfast in its support of AB 1090, the California Assembly Bill to update terminology, heirarchy status, and diversion credit for "conversion technologies" in California. Below is the text from their publication "Inside Waste" publicly distributed during the Summer of 2005. Assembly debate on the bill is scheduled for the first quarter of 2006.


Conversion Technology Report to the Legislature Salvaged

The Task Force has been a consistent advocate for evaluating and implementing conversion technologies as an alternative to landfilling and incineration for many years. Currently, 40 million tons of residual solid waste (the material remaining after recyclables have been extracted) are landfilled each year in California. Instead of being landfilled, this waste can be converted into useable products, clean-burning fuels, and renewable energy. Conversion technologies can address the State’s growing solid waste management needs, including lessening our dependence on landfills and imported fossil fuels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and bringing our State closer to a “zero waste” sustainable future.

AB 2770, signed into law in 2002, directed the Waste Board to conduct studies in order to determine the environmental feasibility of conversion technologies, assess their relative impacts, and ascertain their potential affect on the recycling market in California. On March 15, 2005, the Waste Board capped off the results of a two-year effort involving two studies completed in conjunction with the Universities of California at Riverside and Davis, and adopted a comprehensive report which found that conversion technologies “can result in substantial environmental benefits for California” while complementing and enhancing California’s recycling market. The report helped to place conversion technology in the proper perspective; it recommended a number of sound and impartial improvements that would allow the legislature and other decision makers to consider conversion technology based on the merits of its relative benefits and impacts.

However, on April 19, the Waste Board buckled under intense political pressure from an environmental group* and certain key members of the State legislature who held up the confirmation process of Waste Board Chair Rosario Marin and Waste Board Member Rosalie Mule unless they “reconsidered” the adopted report. As a result of this pressure, the Waste Board voted to remove any information or recommendation not specifically required in AB 2770, purging significant portions from the report including a recommendation to consider providing diversion credit to jurisdictions utilizing conversion technology. Because many local jurisdictions voiced opposition and concern to these revisions at the May 11 meeting, the Waste Board amended their April 19 decision. In a significant victory for proponents of conversion technologies, the information and recommendations eliminated from the original report will be made available in a separate public document, providing an independent corroboration by the State Waste Board to the positive aspects of conversion technologies the Task Force had been promoting. The Task Force would like to thank cities and all other groups and individuals who sent letters of support to the Waste Board and spoke at the May 11 meeting. Because of the hard work of local jurisdictions, agencies, and non-profit organizations, conversion technologies are gradually becoming a reality.

Our next step is to continue advocating for passage of legislation, such as AB 1090, that advances the development of conversion technology. AB 1090, written based in part on the recommendations of the original report, would correct inaccurate definitions of conversion technologies in the current statute and provide jurisdictions utilizing conversion technology facilities with diversion credit, an important financial and regulatory incentive for facility development. Joint legislative committee hearings for AB 1090 are scheduled to be held this summer and/or this fall, and it will take significant grassroots support to overcome entrenched opposition to this Bill. The Task Force asks that stakeholders continue to send letters to their state representatives expressing support of conversion technology, and legislation like AB 1090 that will help make conversion technologies a reality in California the way they have become a reality in Europe and Japan.

*Californians Against Waste

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