7. Biomass: Municipal Solid Waste

MSW Power Milestones

1898First energy recovery in the United StatesEnergy recovery from garbage incineration started in New York City. The primary focus for the next eight decades was on waste volume reduction through incineration, and energy recovery was used primarily for process heat.
1970sCommercializationFirst-generation research was followed by construction of refuse- derived fuel systems and pyrolysis units in the late 1970s. The first commercial units were characterized by poor performance and overly complex technology and were subsequently closed. Writeoffs during 1980-1984 were estimated at $300 million.
1970sU.S. firms' licensing of European mass burn technologyU.S. Navy, Wheelabrator, and Ogden acquired the European mass burn technologies that would dominate the U.S. industry by the late 1980s.
1976Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)RCRA empowered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate residues from solid waste incinerators. Unclear wording made application of the law to MSW power plants uncertain, and the issue was taken to court.
1978Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) enactedPURPA mandated the purchase of electricity from qualifying facilities (QFs) at a utility's avoided cost of energy and capacity. This legislation was used to require utilities to pay a higher price for power from MSW power plants than the plants had traditionally received.
1978City of Philadelphia vs. New JerseyThe U.S. Supreme Court defined waste to be an article of interstate commerce that cannot be discriminated against unless there is some reason, apart from its origin, to treat it differently, or unless Congress specifies otherwise for particular articles of commerce.
1986Tax Reform ActThe Tax Reform Act of 1986 eliminated the tax-free status of MSW power plants financed with industrial development bonds, reduced accelerated depreciation, and eliminated the 10-percent tax credit. The Act also reduced State caps on private tax-exempt bonds in 1988, further reducing funding sources and increasing the cost of capital.
1987Doubling of landfill tipping feesLandfill tipping fees doubled, and doubled again about every 2 years due to rising landfill costs resulting from the RCRA. Siting issues became increasingly difficult.
1989EPA report on recyclingThe Solid Waste Dilemma: An Agenda for Action advocated recycling as a waste management tool.
1990Clean Air Act AmendmentsThe EPA recognized MSW power as a renewable fuel that would qualify for up to 30,000 sulfur dioxide emission allowances from a special pool of 300,000 designed to promote conservation and renewable energy. The EPA also required MSW power plants over 250 tons per day to employ best available control technology (BACT). Retrofit costs caused some facilities to close.
1991Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Subtitle DThe EPA announced that small, unlined landfills would be required to close by December 31, 1993. This action spurred the infant recycling industry and increased tipping fees around the country. Most landfills requested and received extensions.
1992EPA ash memoAn EPA memorandum excluded ash from regulation as a hazardous waste under Subtitle C of the RCRA, as long as it was not characterized as toxic. This action did very little to clarify legal issues.
1992Boom in State recycling legislationIn 1988, only Washington had recycling legislation mandating a state MSW reduction goal through recycling. By 1992, 15 States had adopted recycling legislation. Today, there are over 7,000 recycling programs, covering one-third of the U.S. population; more than 1,000 bills are proposed per year that endorse some type of recycling law, incentive, or program. Many State goals are to reduce MSW by 50 percent or more by 2000.
1992Fort Gratiot Sanitary Landfill vs. Michigan Department of Natural ResourcesThe U.S. Supreme Court ruled that State-imposed waste import restrictions were illegal "economic protectionist" measures that violated the Commerce Clause and were, therefore, unconstitutional. The Court's decision stated that "a State (or one of its political subdivisions) may not avoid the strictures of the Commerce Clause by curtailing the movement of articles of commerce through the subdivisions of the State, rather than through the State itself." The stage was set for a similar ruling in a flow control case.
1994EPA vs. City of ChicagoIn May 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the exemption of MSW (from a hazardous waste definition) under the RCRA did not extend to ash. MSW ash must be tested and disposed of in hazardous waste landfills if found to exceed EPA regulations on hazardous wastes under RCRA.
1994Carbone vs. ClarkstownAlso in May 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld challenges to flow control. As a result, existing flow control contracts could be rendered invalid under specific situations (on a case-by-case basis). Several plants have shut down as a result. The California Supreme Court also ruled against flow control.
1994New air emission regulations proposed by EPAIn September 1994, the EPA strengthened air emission standards for MSW combustion plants by requiring maximum achievable control technologies (MACT). It also included plants as small as 40 tons per day under regulations.
1995Senate flow control billThe Senate passed a flow control bill to grandfather in existing flow control contracts to prevent the major risk of MSW bond default in 14 States

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