Sunday, February 15, 2009

A flare for the unusable

by Dave Rochlin - from

I recently attended a California Climate Action Reserve (CAR) event at the EPA building in Sacramento. The CAR is a major certifier of carbon projects, originally forestry related, and now from many other sectors. I left the event feeling that their exuberance for listing anything with a carbon benefit is a bit disturbing, making heroes out of some of the worst contributors to global warming, including intensive cattle farms, trucking firms, and landfills. In an ironic twist of logic, the only thing that the CAR turned their noses up at is renewable energy, since they expect that power producers will be required to clean up their acts.

Let's take a look at landfills. Landfills create methane, a potent greenhouse gas. So potent in fact that that 1 ton of Methane is the equivalent of roughly 20 tons of CO2. It turns out that capturing this methane is not particularly difficult. Some landfills are starting to either capture and use the gas for power generation, or to simply flare it, converting the methane into a much less harmful waste emission. Subsidies and carbon finance are chasing this change, since methane capture is highly measurable, and relatively easy to do. Project originators are finding this an easy and lucrative way to create carbon credits

While some enthusiastically endorse carbon land fill projects, what does this tell us about the commitment in the US to really doing something about global warming? Before 1970, factories discharged sludge with reckless abandon into the public waterways. After some well publicized cases of rivers literally catching fire, the EPA was formed to protect public health and the environment from pollution. Paying factories not to pollute was not the was to regulate industry from polluting the commons for the sake of higher profits. (It is your sludge, you deal with it!) How exactly is methane different from sludge? Where is the standard that requires landfills to clean up after themselves? When landfills are allowed to release methane and not flare, it hurts the environment while making garbage artificially cheap. This leads to more garbage, and more methane.

The Climate Action Reserve does not believe landfill regulation is forthcoming. And Co-generating power from landfill methane deserves support as both an alternative energy source and climate change reducer. But since the impact of landfill methane is measurable and the avoidance is easy, minimal capture and flaring requirements should not be optional. Unfortunately, a cap and trade system will codify business as usual, creating a permanent standard based on minimal regulation of landfills. Let's not celebrate or subsidize what should be a basic requirement of doing business: We need to hold polluters accountable.

1 comment:

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