In the face of escalating climate concerns, the U.S. is grappling with the dual challenges of advancing clean energy initiatives and establishing effective organic waste management strategies. A year since Congress injected substantial investments into the clean energy transition, progress has been made, but hurdles persist.
Private sector interest in clean energy initiatives has surged, yet the approval process for energy projects exposes critical flaws that, if left unaddressed, could thwart the realization of clean energy economy goals. As we confront the dire impacts of the climate crisis, it is imperative to expedite the approval and review of permits for these projects, which are essential to addressing climate change. Bureaucratic delays are hindering the progress of crucial clean energy projects nationwide.
While the Inflation Reduction Act directs $386 billion toward clean energy and climate goals, there is a gap between federal interests and implementation. The journey toward a clean energy future encounters a number of roadblocks within the bureaucratic maze of approval processes. The cumbersome nature of these procedures stalls projects, impeding the growth of clean energy initiatives across the country. According to a recent study from McKinsey, renewable energy will witness substantial growth in the coming years, constituting around 45–50% of total power generation by 2030. Looking further ahead, the projection extends to approximately 65–85% of total power generation by 2050. Despite these promising prospects, sluggish permitting processes and resistance at the local level remain obstacles to realizing these results.
Congress must act swiftly to address the fundamental flaws in the approval process to truly foster an environment conducive to the rapid advancement of clean energy projects. Regulators must reevaluate and optimize regulatory frameworks, ensuring that environmental and legislative considerations are balanced with the urgent need to transition to sustainable energy sources. By doing so, we can pave the way for a cleaner and more resilient energy future.
Organics Recycling: A Critical Component of Sustainability
In the broader context of environmental sustainability, organic waste management is an often overlooked but valuable tool for building a green energy future, while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Organic landfill waste currently contributes to 15% of U.S. methane emissions and 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing the severity of this issue, it is imperative to establish a legislative path to organics recycling. While addressing the negative impacts of organic waste in landfills, organic waste recycling also provides the valuable raw materials for the generation of clean, renewable energy through the process of anaerobic digestion (AD).
To encourage sustainable waste management practices and mitigate the environmental impact of organic waste that is not recycled, a comprehensive legislative framework is indispensable. This framework should provide a structured and standardized approach to address the challenges associated with organic waste. It should offer clear guidelines for waste reduction, recycling organics by anaerobic digestion and composting, creating a cohesive strategy to move swiftly toward organics recycling.
A growing number of U.S. jurisdictions are adopting waste redirection policies at the state and municipal levels. Several states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, have implemented robust legislative measures to address the management of organic waste.
In California, organic recycling is mandated to align with the state’s commitment to redirecting a significant percentage of food waste. Since 2017, Maryland has undertaken a legislative path to ensure the redirecting of food waste to mitigate methane emissions and for generation of renewable energy by passing six separate laws.
Currently, generators of large quantities of food residuals in the state are required to separate the food residuals from other solid waste and ensure that the food residuals are redirected to an organics recycling facility. Those facilities, in turn, are able to utilize the material to generate energy through AD. These legislative initiatives collectively reflect a commitment to addressing environmental concerns and fostering sustainable waste management practices.
While acknowledging the diversity of legislation from state to state, a cohesive national approach is essential. Governments at all levels, from federal to county, play a crucial role in incentivizing businesses and individuals to adopt organics recycling practices. County-level legislation, in particular, has the potential to streamline the permitting process, stimulating industry growth.
Benefits of Organics Recycling Legislation
Implementing organic recycling legislation holds numerous benefits for the environment. The significance of organics recycling cannot be overstated in the battle against climate change. As organic waste decomposes within landfills, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas possessing 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Organics recycling facilities are pivotal players in mitigating the release of these harmful greenhouse gases, as they significantly reduce methane emissions by redirecting organic waste from landfills. By doing so, these facilities contribute to enhanced carbon sequestration, diminished fossil fuel consumption and the generation of clean, renewable energy.
Organic waste reycling legislation encourages the adoption of sustainable waste management practices, promoting a circular economy that minimizes environmental harm. Moreover, organic waste recycling mitigates the adverse effects of agricultural runoff, a major contributor to water pollution. When recycled and used as natural soil amendments, the organic content in redirected waste enhances soil health and structure, reducing the risk of runoff carrying harmful pollutants into water bodies. This not only safeguards local ecosystems but also ensures the availability of clean water resources for communities.
Additionally, organics recycling results in the improvement of air quality. Landfills and incinerators release various pollutants into the air, including particulate matter and hazardous chemicals. By redirecting organic materials to recycling facilities such as anaerobic digesters and composting, we minimize the generation of air pollutants, contributing to cleaner and healthier air for nearby communities.
In essence, organic materials serve as a comprehensive strategy to enhance the soil, air, and water quality of local communities. When used as raw materials for anaerobic digestion, redirected organic waste becomes a source of green energy. Beyond the immediate benefits of organic waste reduction and spurring new industries, this approach fosters a more sustainable and resilient environment, positively impacting the well-being of ecosystems and the people inhabiting them.
As we navigate these challenges, it is imperative for Congress and local governments to work collaboratively in creating a cohesive and streamlined processes and comprehensive legislation to spur investment and innovation. By doing so, we can accelerate progress toward a more sustainable and circular economy, safeguarding the environment for future generations.
The time to act is now, and through concerted efforts, we can overcome these obstacles and build a cleaner, greener future.
—Andrew Cassilly is vice president of Government Relations at Bioenergy Devco. He previously served as the chief legislative officer and senior advisor to former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and served two terms in Maryland’s General Assembly.