Commentary: Biogas Council State Legislative Update

Norma McDonald

Norma McDonald
BioCycle May 2013, Vol. 54, No. 5, p. 44

The American Biogas Council (ABC) State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Committee’s (SLRAC) is actively supporting initiatives for organics recycling, anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas production in multiple states. Established as an adjunct to ABC’s federal Legislative and Regulatory Affairs committee, the SLRAC’s purpose is to advance the legislative and regulatory goals of the ABC membership within state governments and agencies, and to provide information and intelligence to the membership regarding state level developments affecting the industry.

The SLRAC’s goals for 2013 include: Introduce organics diversion plans in targeted states; Organize in targeted states via State Captains and Teams; Equip teams with model legislation and supporting data; Provide support for other policies, such as Renewable Portfolio Standards, Net Metering, grants, loans; and Link with US Composting Council (USCC) counterparts in key states to increase effectiveness and reach.

Organics Diversion Plans

In the last four months, progress has been made particularly on accelerating adoption of state organics diversion plans. Plans that mandate or otherwise provide overwhelming incentives for diversion of organic waste from landfills are seen as critical to ensuring sufficient feedstocks are available to enable cost-effective establishment of organics recycling infrastructure. To achieve this goal, the SLRAC first prioritized a short list of states for initial action by polling ABC and USCC membership and evaluating each state against member criteria. These criteria included a high concentration of organics within the state; presence of existing policies conducive to organics diversion and greenhouse gas reduction; and higher landfill fees and limited availability. The polling process resulted in a “Top 10” selection of California, Wisconsin, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Jersey.

The SLRAC then completed an initial gap analysis for organics diversion plans in the first five states — California, Wisconsin, New York, Washington and Massachusetts — to assess existing laws, regulations and rules for organics diversion compared to “model” organics diversion plans in which 100 percent of organics are diverted from landfills through some combination of mandates and incentives. The SLRAC drafted “model” diversion plan provisions using language from recently enacted measures in Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts. Key elements include an initial phased-in mandatory diversion of organics as the local infrastructure to appropriately process them becomes available, increasing from 25 to 65 percent diversion by the end of 10 years. Interestingly, Connecticut is already proposing to remove the provision that limits diversion mandates to available capacity and make the targets strictly time-based.

State Captains

A combination of ABC and USCC members have volunteered as State Captains to lead initiatives to implement enhanced organics diversion within these states. Activities in California, led by Julia Levin and the Bioenergy Association of California, have already included meetings with Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Ashley Conrad-Saydah, Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy at CalEPA and Scott Smithline, Assistant Director for Policy Development at CalReCycle to discuss enhancement of California’s 75 percent landfill diversion goals to include mandatory statewide organics diversion plans.

In New York, State Captain Kendall Christiansen and others have met with the New York Research and Development Authority, the state Department of Conservation and the New York Water Environment Association to discuss organics recycling and AD. Another source of support is Syracuse University, which has been assessing the benefits for diverting organics from landfills. And recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a program that would collect residential food scraps and yard trimmings from 3,500 homes and initially send it to a composting operation on Staten Island. An AD facility may come later.

While not yet a mandate, the Twin Cities area of Minnesota (which produces about half the total waste generated in the state) instituted an organics diversion goal. Marcus Zbinden, who leads USCC legislative outreach in Minnesota, reports the goal has increased public and private interest in the establishment of facilities to process the organics. His group is now working toward introducing legislation for a statewide organics diversion plan.

Other states are taking a broad approach to increasing the availability and use of biomass, including both the organics in MSW and other preconsumer sources. One example is in Indiana where more than 20 people have recently organized the “Task Force on Anaerobic Digestion” with assistance from the Indiana Biomass Working Group and Purdue University. The group will seek to improve the regulatory environment to foster increased collaboration between urban and agricultural sources of organics and availability of AD facilities to process them.

To learn more about SLRAC visit www.americanbiogascouncil.org.

Norma McDonald is Vice-Chair of the American Biogas Council (ABC), and Co-Chair of ABC’s State Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Committee. She is North American Sales Manager for Organic Waste Systems.

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