Maryland governor to sign bill making MSW renewable source

By Lisa Gibson | May 18, 2011

Maryland’s Gov. Martin O’Malley said he intends to sign into law Senate Bill 690, allowing municipal solid waste to classify as a Tier I renewable in the state and therefore receive renewable energy credits under its renewable portfolio standard.

Under fire for the decision, O’Malley released a lengthy statement May 17 explaining his reasoning and the bill’s benefits to Maryland. The state has an aggressive goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2022, he said, which will require a diverse fuel mix to accomplish.

“Maryland is not alone in this determination,” he continued. “Over half of the states that have a renewable energy goal classify municipal solid waste as a renewable fuel. European countries that are many decades ahead of the United States in reducing their carbon footprint and their reliance on fossil fuels make broad use of modern waste-to-energy facilities and employ comprehensive recycling efforts in order to land fill as little waste as possible.”

Marylanders generate tons of waste every day and without waste-to-energy facilities, no value is derived from the waste and the state continues to rely on coal-fired power generation.

“Therefore, the question is not whether waste-to-energy facilities are better for the environment than coal-fired generation or better for the environment than the landfilling of trash, but rather whether waste-to-energy facilities are better than the combination of coal and land filling, based on the best available science,” O’Malley said. “The answer to that question is a qualified ‘yes.’”

O’Malley addressed emissions from waste-to-energy facilities, explaining that they will be more environmentally friendly than the current landfilling and coal-burning strategy. In addition, waste-to-energy facilities generally emit lower levels of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter per megawatt hour than coal when used to generate power. But the most troublesome pollutant, he said, is mercury.

“Mercury emissions are the most worrisome aspect of waste-to-energy facilities, but can be limited through vigorous regulation,” O’Malley said. “To this end, I have instructed Maryland’s Department of the Environment to strictly regulate the amount of mercury emanating from both existing and proposed waste-to-energy facilities in our state. This is not enough, however. We must also remove mercury from the waste stream altogether; my administration is considering legislative proposals to ensure that happens.”

This bill is just one component of a larger and more comprehensive solid waste management approach, he said, citing another bill that increases education efforts on composting. His administration has also been working toward increased recycling and decreased plastic bag use. A designated study group will release its final report on such measures in December. In closing, O’Malley said that with the signing of Senate Bill 690, he also reaffirms his commitment to bringing offshore wind to Maryland, yet another resource that has been fought by opponents on the East Coast.