May 8, 2003
Push to Burn More Municipal Solid Waste Opposed
Legislation gives incentive to burn toxic garbage to produce power in Texas
AUSTIN — Legislation that would encourage the burning of municipal solid waste in Texas to produce electricity also would result in Texans breathing more toxic air emissions, the consumer advocacy groups Public Citizen and TexPIRG said today.
The legislation also would hamper the continued development of clean sources of energy such as wind and solar power, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.
“It’s bad enough that burning solid waste harms the health of Texans,” Smith said. “But to burn more garbage at the expense of the state’s renewable energy industry makes this legislation more troubling.”
House Bill 2576, sponsored by State Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, would give electric utility companies credit under the state’s renewable energy mandate for generating or buying some of their power from burning municipal solid waste. A companion bill, Senate Bill 1325, is sponsored by State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas.
Utilities in Texas are required to obtain enough of their power from renewable sources so that the state meets its goal of getting 3 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2009.
“Both the Legislature and the Public Utility Commission have made it clear in the past that they do not consider municipal solid waste a source of renewable energy,” said Luke Metzger, advocate with TexPIRG. “Through these bills, the garbage incineration industry is trying to redefine what a natural, renewable source of energy is.”
Smith said polls show that 80 percent of Texans want to see more of the state’s electricity come from clean, renewable sources of power such as the wind and sun.
“That why the legislature two years ago approved the renewable energy credits trading program,” he said.
Currently in Texas, 16 municipal solid waste incinerators have state permits, but only 10 are operating. Of those 10, only three (operated by the cities of Center, Cleburne and Carthage) are used to generate electricity.
The health risks associated with burning municipal solid waste are well-documented, Metzger said. Emissions from garbage incineration contain harmful substances such as mercury, dioxin, heavy metals and other air pollutants.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2.2 tons of mercury were emitted through garbage incineration in the United States in 2000 — nearly 20 percent of the nation’s mercury emissions.
In 2000, municipal solid waste burning in the U.S. also yielded 707 tons of particulate matter, 0.33 tons of cadmium, 4.76 tons of lead, 2,672 tons of hydrochloric acid, 4,076 tons of sulfur dioxide and 46,500 tons of nitrogen oxide.
While new technologies have reduced harmful emissions from the burning of municipal solid waste, those technologies also have resulted in the generation of more ash and other burning byproducts, which also contain these harmful substances. Ultimately, byproducts must either be buried in landfills or released into the environment in other ways.
According to a 2000 National Academy of Sciences study, waste incinerators have reduced their dioxin air emissions, but there is no evidence that total dioxin produced by such burning, including that in the ash byproducts, has decreased.
“There’s just no way the burning of sold waste should be tied to the state’s goal to get more of our power from truly renewable sources,” Smith said.
Both the House and Senate version of the trash burning bills could be debated by the full legislative bodies this week, Smith said.