This was written by Moms Clean Air Force’s Washington, DC Field Manager, Julie Hantman:
This month, the DC Council will close a Nationals Stadium-sized loophole in the District’s clean energy laws.
Back in 2005, the Council instructed Pepco and other DC electricity suppliers to start buying some of their electricity from renewable energy producers (the current required threshold is 20%).
Suppliers comply by buying electricity – or more commonly, ‘renewable energy credits’ – from eligible producers around the region.
It’s a common state strategy to build demand for renewables like wind and solar and help grow the clean energy economy. Electricity suppliers – and ultimately residential rate-payers – dig a little deeper into their pockets to create incentives for renewable energy producers to begin or expand operations.
It has worked well in the 29 states with similar ‘Renewable Portfolio Standard’ (RPS) legislation.
But not so well in DC.
Here’s why: DC counts as ‘renewable’ a dirty waste byproduct of paper manufacturing called ‘black liquor.’
Chief Policy Analyst James McGarry of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) explains:
“DC’s law was designed to drive the creation of new, clean energy facilities in our region. Sadly, that bill contained a major loophole, and a full 66 percent of DC’s ‘clean’ energy dollars has been going to decades-old paper mills that burn ‘black liquor’ and old, inefficient ‘biomass’ power plants — instead of real clean energy like wind and solar power.”
While black liquor rides the gravy train, wind and solar have gotten only 15% of DC’s renewable energy dollars over the past six years.
What’s worse, the law is rewarding some serious polluters in the region. Combustion of black liquor by paper mills in states like PA, OH, MD, VA, KY, GA, TN, and KY carries enormous climate and health impacts, says CCAN’s McGarry.
“Facilities that burn black liquor and inefficient biomass emit greenhouse gases at levels on par with burning coal. They also emit toxic air pollutants like sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, arsenic and lead at levels greater than or equal to plants that burn fossil fuels.”
Dirty indeed. Some of those pollutants “cook” in the sun to form ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, causing a swath of respiratory ailments. Growing concern over ground-level ozone’s health effects recently has prompted the EPA to propose tighter ozone restrictions.
Seeing fruits of EPA’s efforts will take a while, though.
Fortunately as this year’s DC legislative session draws to a close, Council leaders are moving to end black liquor’s bogus renewable status.
You wouldn’t put tar in your healthy-snack cabinet. Moms and dads demand real renewables for the sake of our kids’ health, and applaud DC Council’s efforts to kick black liquor off the renewables list.
Photo via Chesapeake Climate Action Network