Disaster Debris Shouldn't Be a Problem

By Rona Johnson
I recently came across an article in the International Herald Tribune that would make any red-blooded American biomass processor salivate. The story, titled "Debris pile becomes symbol of US agency delays," was about a 30-mile-long pile of debris along the Texas coast leftover from the 2008 hurricane season. However, before you start making plans to turn that debris into something useful such as energy or fertilizer, there's something you should know. According to the article, that pile of debris is mired in red tape.

The article says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working as fast as it can, but complex regulations, the need to spend taxpayer money wisely and arguments over who is responsible for what have stymied cleanup efforts.

Call me crazy, but I think FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison and Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman should sit down and map out some sort of plan to deal with the debris that remains after hurricane season. After all, Bodman and his people are looking for new technologies to create renewable energy, and FEMA has often been criticized for its handling of disasters. It seems to me that a 30-mile pile of debris would be the perfect proving ground for a new biomass handling system or a technology that can turn biomass into power, fuel and/or chemicals.

At the very least, following several disastrous hurricanes starting with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there should be a protocol in place to deal with this debris. Maybe it's a matter of the federal government taking ownership of debris from natural disasters in areas where residents have accepted government assistance. Then biomass processors should be allowed to bid on this material. I'm sure rules would be required to ensure that biomass processors do what they say they're going to and do it in a timely fashion. To make the process more palatable, the money that the processors pay for the debris could go into a fund to help victims of natural disasters.

I'm probably simplifying the issue, but if it's that complex, a task force or committee needs to be formed to map this out. It would be a shame if all of this debris was just burned or buried.

Rona Johnson
Features Editor