Burning Hazardous Waste And Petcoke Is Not Renewable Energy

What do you think of when you hear the words renewable energy? Perhaps you think about clean energy sources like wind or solar. Odds are, you don’t think about incinerating hazardous waste like petroleum coke (petcoke), a toxic industrial byproduct of the oil refining process. But that is exactly what some Michigan state legislators are currently proposing.

Recently the House Energy and Technology Committee held a hearing on House Bill 5205. This bill would gut the state definition of renewable energy and allow the burning of solid municipal waste, industrial waste, and pretroleum byproducts to count as renewable.

That’s right, legislators are seriously suggesting that we call burning hazardous industrial byproducts a source of renewable energy.

Incinerating hazardous waste and petroleum byproducts produces carcinogenic toxins and harmful air pollution that puts the health of Michiganders and our environment at risk. One of these byproducts, petcoke, is already being used as fuel in our state’s coal-fired power plants even though the negative health impacts of our reliance on dirty, polluting energy sources is abundantly clear. A 2009 study demonstrated that Michigan residents are incurring over $1 billion annually in health care costs and damages related to air pollution from coal plants. By encouraging the incineration of harmful industrial and petroleum byproducts, this legislation would only increase those health care costs. We should be moving away from this costly, polluting technology, not fostering its use by defining it as renewable.

Detroit is home to the world’s largest municipal waste incinerator and residents know firsthand the consequences of living in its shadow. One of the worst polluters in Wayne county, the incinerator burns an estimated 2,800 tons of waste everyday. Pollution from the incinerator contains toxins like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and lead, contributing to the city’s abnormally high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. The incinerator has also cost the city billions. Despite the city selling the plant to a private investor in 1991, tax payers are still paying $1.2 billion in bonds.

HB 5205 is clearly bad news for Michigan, but what about the legislation it is attempting to change? The Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act of 2008 defined renewable energy as energy produced from solar power, water power, or wind power over a human timeframe. It also established Michigan’s renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2015 10 percent of Michigan’s electricity come from renewable sources. This legislation put Michigan on the path to a clean energy future, spurred innovation, and created jobs across the state. In 2013 Michigan got 6.9 percent of its energy from renewable sources and the state is on track to hit 10 percent renewable energy in the near future. Michiganders are already seeing benefits from increasing our renewable energy use. In a report released earlier this year, the Michigan Public Services Commission found that growth in the clean energy industry has generated $2.2 billion in economic activity. Additionally, utilities are closing down some of the state’s dirty coal plants, further reducing the amount of toxins and pollutants present in our air.

In short, Michigan’s current renewable energy legislation is working. It is decreasing pollution, and driving economic growth. By gutting the current science-based definition of renewable energy, HB 5205 would undermine this progress, and push Michigan further from its goal of transitioning to a clean energy future.

So, what can you do about this terrible bill? Follow this link to send a message to members of the House Committee on Energy and Technology. Tell them to support true renewable energy, and a healthy vibrant future for Michigan by rejecting HB 5205.