The American Legislative Exchange Council, a wing of corporate America that writes model legislation, has convinced one of its members, Michigan legislator Aric Nesbitt, to submit a bill to make toxic petroleum cake and other solid waste eligible for tax credits for clean and renewable energy.
ALEC worked for years to get legislatures to kill the entire idea of renewable energy tax credits, but now that they’ve failed they want to redefine the terms to boost the profits of their corporate benefactors — and screw the environment.
Michigan currently defines a renewable energy resource as energy that is ultimately derived from solar power, water power or wind power, and is naturally replenished over a human time frame. This is a definition based on science, not on political interests. But right now a bill is making its way through the Michigan House of Representatives that would gut the existing definition and allow burning industrial waste and petroleum byproducts to classify as renewable energy.
This attack on clean energy is especially glaring given the recent controversy surrounding petroleum coke storage in Detroit. Last year, four-story high piles of petcoke plumed black clouds of toxic dust over the Detroit River, polluting surrounding communities and our Great Lakes. Unbelievable as it may seem, if this bill passes, burning petcoke – the dirtiest byproduct of the oil refining process – would qualify as clean, renewable energy.
Incinerating hazardous waste and calling it clean is downright indefensible. The incineration process emits carcinogenic toxins and harmful air pollution that put the health of Michiganders and our air and water on the line. Per a 2009 study commissioned by the Michigan Environmental Council, pollution from existing coal plants already cost Michigan residents more than $1 billion annually in health care costs and damages. We simply cannot afford to incentivize incineration of hazardous waste. We cannot allow Michigan legislators to gerrymander a definition of clean, renewable energy to make room for more pollution.
As EclectaBlog put it, the bill would “hijack our state’s clean energy mandate in order to fatten the pocketbooks of the Big Oil/Big Energy companies and utilities by greenwashing their operations with the net result of INCREASING carbon emissions.” And since Republicans control massive majorities in both houses of Congress, I certainly won’t be surprised if it passes.
Like Dispatches on Facebook: