December 19, 2007 | General

Editorial: "Spinning Out Of Control"

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle December 2007, Vol. 48, No. 12, p. 4
The past few weeks have been testament to the fact that the news is “how we spin it.” A case in point is the national energy bill that Congress has been busy debating while interest groups on all sides of all the issues are busy spinning the consequences. Earlier this week, the PR Newswire sent out a series of press releases with everything identical in the headline but the name of the state. At 11:45 a.m., the headline on a press release read: “Study Estimates Energy Legislation Will Cost Mississippi More Than 56,000 Jobs.” At 11:54 a.m., the same headline, different state – Arizona to lose nearly 93,000 jobs. At 12:08 pm, it was Colorado with nearly 58,000 jobs lost.
The statistics are from a report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that claims the energy bill erects new barriers to domestic oil and gas production, while supporting renewable energy and fuels. It’s hard to take this complaint seriously when just a year or so ago, this same industry was recording record profits.
What also is hard to take seriously in the spinning of the 2007 energy bill is resistance to a requirement for utilities to generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources. About half the states in the U.S. – representing more than half of the country’s total electricity sales – already have some sort of Renewable Portfolio Standard on the books. At this point, adopting a national standard would be more symbolic – that our national government recognizes the role of renewable resources in the 21st century.
All spinning aside, what is most insulting about this national debate is the fact that it overlooks the hard work, significant capital investments and plain old fashion success of existing renewable energy and fuels projects. Just ask the Breyers Yogurt Company and the Maker’s Mark Distillery, manufacturers of nationally recognized products. Both companies have invested in an anaerobic treatment system for their high strength liquid waste stream that is offsetting fuel oil and natural gas costs. (See “Anaerobic Treatment of High-Strength Wastewater,” starting on page 41 of this issue.) At Maker’s Mark, a primary motivation to install the technology was to enable a plant expansion. The Master Distiller told us that when the first batch of bourbon whiskey comes out of the warehouse in six years, the $8 million system will have paid for itself due to the expanded capacity – and the energy savings. No job losses and hardships there that we could discern.
In the solid waste management world, the spinning will continue full-bore as the New Year unfolds. At issue: Which is the best way to manage organics from a global warming perspective? Landfill and waste-to-energy companies argue that they have the most climate-friendly solutions. Composters and organics recyclers counter that their methods are most effective in capturing and controlling methane emissions. While arguments on both sides will sound compelling, the key is to measure benefits beyond just methane capture. What approaches are the most sustainable for the communities where they are located? What are the by-products and their benefits? Which approach enhances natural resource management?
And to bring it home to the spinning theme of this editorial, which approach will create the most jobs? As we work on BioCycle articles, as well as the agenda for our 24th Annual West Coast Conference next April in San Diego (see pages 8-9), we keep learning about projects and organic waste management opportunities that create jobs and boost local economies – while generating renewable fuels and power, as well as renewable soils. Well, API, put that in your pipe and spin it! 

Sign up