Hazardous Waste is Not Clean, Renewable Energy

- by Lisa Wozniak, June 2, 2014, Lansing News

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"203","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 480px; height: 410px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;","title":"Photo: MLive"}}]]People in politics tell a lot of “success” stories, but one that can be substantiated is the rise of clean, renewable energy in Michigan. Thanks to a law passed with bipartisan support in 2008, Michigan has been challenged to generate 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources like wind, solar, or water by 2015. We are currently on track to meet or exceed that goal, which has resulted in job creation, cost reductions, and cleaner air and water.

Despite a track record of success, however, efforts to increase the use of clean renewable energy in Michigan are under attack. Besides a looming expiration date of 2015 on our clean energy goals, state legislators want to rewrite the definition of renewable energy to include some of the dirtiest, most hazardous substances generated by oil refineries and coal plants. They want us to consider hazardous waste and petroleum byproducts clean, renewable energy.

Michigan currently defines a renewable energy resource as energy that is ultimately derived from solar power, water power or wind power, and is naturally replenished over a human time frame. This is a definition based on science, not on political interests. But right now a bill is making its way through the Michigan House of Representatives that would gut the existing definition and allow burning industrial waste and petroleum byproducts to classify as renewable energy.

This attack on clean energy is especially glaring given the recent controversy surrounding petroleum coke storage in Detroit. Last year, four-story high piles of petcoke plumed black clouds of toxic dust over the Detroit River, polluting surrounding communities and our Great Lakes. Unbelievable as it may seem, if this bill passes, burning petcoke – the dirtiest byproduct of the oil refining process – would qualify as clean, renewable energy.

Incinerating hazardous waste and calling it clean is downright indefensible. The incineration process emits carcinogenic toxins and harmful air pollution that put the health of Michiganders and our air and water on the line. Per a 2009 study commissioned by the Michigan Environmental Council, pollution from existing coal plants already cost Michigan residents more than $1 billion annually in health care costs and damages. We simply cannot afford to incentivize incineration of hazardous waste. We cannot allow Michigan legislators to gerrymander a definition of clean, renewable energy to make room for more pollution.

If House Bill 5205 passes, we need only look at some of our urban centers to see what the future has in store. Detroit residents can tell you firsthand the consequences of living in the shadow of the world’s largest municipal waste incinerator. One of the worst polluters in Wayne County, the incinerator burns an estimated 2,800 tons of waste everyday.

Emissions from the incinerator contain toxins like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and lead - all of which have contributed to the city’s abnormally high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Michigan deserves leadership and legislation that fosters real renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, not dangerous policy that encourages the development of dirty, polluting sources by masquerading them as renewables. State legislators should to stop wasting time on House Bill 5205 and to get to work passing a stronger clean, renewable energy standard that retains the current, legitimate definition of renewable energy. Now, that’d be a success story worth telling.

Lisa Wozniak is the Executive Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan political voice for Michigan’s land, air and water. Follow Michigan LCV on Facebook or Twitter