Recycling redefined 

Proposed legislation will send waste tires up in smoke

Burning rubber is more than just an adolescent race for attention these days. Some Hoosier lawmakers are driving legislation that would roll over legitimate recycling efforts with a plan to burn automobile tires.

For the second year in a row, the General Assembly is considering a bill that would allow the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to pay for incineration projects with the state’s limited recycling funds.

Tucked in to Senate Bill 43 is a provision that enables the Solid Waste Management Fund to consider allocating money to waste-to-energy projects. Such projects could include incinerating automobile tires for tire-derived fuel or capturing methane from large-scale animal feeding operations.

This will be a crucial week for the bill, which has the endorsement of Indiana Farm Bureau and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The short session ends March 14 and Feb. 28 is the last day for a third reading of Senate bills in the House. Already passed by the Senate, at press time the bill was under review by the House Environmental Affairs Committee.

What’s the issue with incineration? “It’s final disposal, not recycling,” says Jeffrey Miller, president of the Indiana Recycling Coalition, a nonprofit recycling and resource conservation advocacy group. He said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s solid waste hierarchy gives priority to source reduction, followed by reuse and recycling. Final disposal is at the bottom of the heap — including incineration, waste-to-energy facilities and landfills. Miller said the IRC opposes the waste-to-energy language in part because “good legislation should not pit recycling projects against final disposal options.”

Carey Hamilton, lobbyist for the Indiana Recycling Coalition, Save the Dunes Council, Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter and the Izaak Walton League Indiana Division, says the proposal will reduce funding for recycling programs. “Recycling commodities saves much more energy than waste-to-energy operations produce,” she said, adding that incinerating automobile tires creates toxic air and waste streams that IDEM must manage with taxpayers’ money. “We should not take money designated for an environmentally preferable investment and fund a lower environmental purpose,” she said.

IDEM’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Technical Assistance manages the Solid Waste Management Fund. Projects eligible include curbside and drop-off recycling programs; preschool, K-12 and university projects, regional cooperative programs; public education and promotion campaigns; and the mercury switch removal program.

According to IDEM public information officer Barry Sneed, OPPTA received 39 applications in its most recent grant round, with total requests of $798,279. Only 12 grants totaling $328,289 were awarded.

Miller, of the IRC, said it doesn’t make sense to allow such a popular and well-managed fund to be raided. “The Waste Tire Management Fund already exists and has a balance of nearly $6.9 million, of which 65 percent can be spent on things like tire incineration,” he noted.

Lobbyist Hamilton said Indiana is missing out on additional recycling jobs. She mentioned a recycled carpet manufacturer that wanted to locate a plant in Greenfield but couldn’t because insufficient plastics are recycled in Indiana. ”We don’t have robust recycling in our communities to create the feedstock these companies need,” she said.

John Blair, president of the Evansville-based environmental protection group Valley Watch, wishes pollution prevention were a higher priority. He considers tire-derived fuel a threat to public health because of toxins released into the air via incineration. “We know that most tires contain some amount of chlorine and that when burned, chlorine in the presence of hydrocarbons creates both dioxins and furans, which are persistent organic pollutants,” he said. “Burning tires also creates a large stream of carbon monoxide waste that should not be allowed to escape into the atmosphere to injure humans downwind.”

Air quality concerns haven’t dampened IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly’s enthusiasm for tire-derived fuel. He told the House committee at its Feb. 6 hearing, “We’re excited about the idea and we’ve gotten requests from people who will build something that wants to eat tires for the long term.” He said IDEM recently gave $1 million to Lehigh Cement Co., a subsidiary of the German building materials company HeidelbergCement, to jumpstart the $3 million expansion of its Mitchell, Ind., facility that would burn a million tires a year.

Easterly noted that there are nearly 6 million scrap automobile tires in the state. Cleanups are handled in part by funds from the Waste Tire Management Fund, which is funded by a 25-cents-per-tire fee that consumers pay at time of purchase.

According to the EPA’s Web site, tire-derived fuel is not considered recycling. So why should Indiana allow incineration projects to compete for recycling funds?

Vince Griffin, director of environment and energy affairs for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, gave testimony in support of SB 43 to the House Environmental Affairs Committee. “We’re very concerned about Indiana’s energy future,” he said afterwards. “The state utility forecasting group says that we’re going to have a 500-megawatt-per-year additional demand for power in the state of Indiana, which means we need to be doing something.”

Griffin said the Chamber wants the Solid Waste Management Fund to have the option to allocate funds to industrial plants, confined animal feeding operators and landfills. “This is not something that says IDEM has to use funds for these purposes. It gives them more flexibility.”

Some observers wonder whether this is a recycling problem, a solid waste problem or an energy problem. At the Feb. 6 Environmental Affairs Committee meeting, Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) said he had been surprised by an assessment that Indiana has no waste tire problem. According to William Beranek Jr.’s Aug. 16, 2006, report to the Environmental Quality Service Council, “Neither illegal dumping of waste tires nor unwarranted speculative storage of waste tires appears to be a serious problem in Indiana at this time.”

Pierce said, “We have to decide if the waste tire issue is some kind of a crisis that demands we immediately take away resources from recycling programs. I don’t want to hobble local recycling efforts, which are very important. I would like to figure out a way to accomplish both these things.”

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