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Category: Policy

A Flare for the Unusable

Written By: Dave Rochlin | 4 comments | Join the Discussion

Landfills create methane, a potent greenhouse gas roughly 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. 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, which converts the methane to carbon dioxide. Subsidies and carbon finance are chasing projects like these, since methane capture is accurately measurable, and relatively easy to do. Project developers are finding this an easy and lucrative way to create carbon credits.

While some enthusiastically endorse landfill methane capture projects, what does this tell us about the US commitment 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 idea....it 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, it hurts the environment, and therefore the public health, while making garbage artificially cheap. This leads to more garbage, and more methane. Capturing methane, ideally to generate power, deserves support both as an alternative energy source and climate change reducer.

The Climate Action Reserve does not believe landfill methane regulation is forthcoming. But since the impact of landfill methane is measurable and the avoidance is easy, minimal capture and flaring 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.

Discuss This

  1. Robert Taylor posted on 03.30.10

    Interesting article... in a similar vein I don`t see why regional sewage authorities that take in local residences human waste can`t be converted into methane producers ... the electricity that could be generated from it could be added to the power grid and help with the new electric plug in cars that the administration and the auto firms are developing...

  2. posted on 12.29.09

    I hope they can do something about this matter very soon.

  3. ryon posted on 12.22.09

    I think it is a good point that those of us generating the trash should be working on reducing the amount we produce. It isn't fair to punish those who are trying to deal with other's trash. I think in my life time we have made a lot of progress in recycling.

  4. GlobalGivingGreen posted on 08.06.09

    A good point, Dave. What eventually really made a difference on the amount of "sludge" coming from factories was when companies started focusing not on end-of-pipe solutions but on re-engineering processes to not produce the harmful wastes in the first place. Continuing the analogy you set out here, this would mean reducing the amount of trash coming to the landfill. So if we're looking to hold polluters accountable, those making the trash are ultimately responsible: All of us. Does that mean a per-pound garbage tax? Regulation on packaging? Tax incentives for reusable alternatives and better design? Or for the manufacturers of more durable goods? Or for tailors, electricians, mechanics and others who keep what you currently own wearable, operating, working?

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Discuss This

  1. Robert Taylor posted on 03.30.10

    Interesting article... in a similar vein I don`t see why regional sewage authorities that take in local residences human waste can`t be converted into methane producers ... the electricity that could be generated from it could be added to the power grid and help with the new electric plug in cars that the administration and the auto firms are developing...

  2. posted on 12.29.09

    I hope they can do something about this matter very soon.

  3. ryon posted on 12.22.09

    I think it is a good point that those of us generating the trash should be working on reducing the amount we produce. It isn't fair to punish those who are trying to deal with other's trash. I think in my life time we have made a lot of progress in recycling.

  4. GlobalGivingGreen posted on 08.06.09

    A good point, Dave. What eventually really made a difference on the amount of "sludge" coming from factories was when companies started focusing not on end-of-pipe solutions but on re-engineering processes to not produce the harmful wastes in the first place. Continuing the analogy you set out here, this would mean reducing the amount of trash coming to the landfill. So if we're looking to hold polluters accountable, those making the trash are ultimately responsible: All of us. Does that mean a per-pound garbage tax? Regulation on packaging? Tax incentives for reusable alternatives and better design? Or for the manufacturers of more durable goods? Or for tailors, electricians, mechanics and others who keep what you currently own wearable, operating, working?

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