No sooner had CalRecycle issued a finding that Plasco Energy of Canada, winner of an RFP to build a waste-to-clean-energy facility for the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, could meet the intent of the existing definition of gasification, did the office of the Senate’s President Pro Tem write to the Natural Resources Agency and the Governor’s Office demanding a rescission of this ruling, thus renewing the state’s dark-ages approach to unrecyclable organic materials management.
In response to this latest attempt to throttle advanced bioconversion technologies, former state senator David Roberti, a Democrat who served 27 years in the legislature, including 13 years as president pro tem of the state senate, wrote the following letter to Sen. Darrell Steinberg, expressing his concern with that action.
April 21, 2011
Hon. Darrell Steinberg
President Pro Tern
California State Senate
State Capitol, Room 205
Sacramento. CA 95814
The state of California has virtually lost a major opportunity to take a leadership position, indeed to even be a player in the worldwide initiative to produce renewable energy—both advanced biofuels and electricity—from organic wastes
Legislation to correct definitions in the statute that are universally acknowledged to be scientifically inaccurate has been blocked by a small minority of legislators in our party for the past six years.
Already, as a result of the legislature's unwillingness to act, California's biobased technology companies have either located or moved out of the state, something approaching $1 billion in plant construction, setting the states program of advanced biofuels production back by at least a decade.
Now, in addition to that small minority, I find that the President Pro Tem’s office has launched a frontal attack on this industry, an industry that, for the last six years, I have served as president of the BioEnergy Producers Association.
On your behalf, Kip Lipper has sent a communication to the Governor’s office, the Natural Resources Agency, and the Energy Commission, challenging a finding that the Plasco Energy waste-to-clean-energy technology meets the definition of gasification.
It is clear that CalRecycle’s ruling on this issue, reached after long discussion, was the correct opinion. Legally, there could be no other interpretation because it would never be the intent of the legislature to pass a law with which no one can comply.
When operating a refinery of any type or size, whether it is producing fuels from petroleum or biomass, it is a physical impossibility for that facility to create zero emissions. It is a standard required of no other manufacturing facility in the state of California—one that has discouraged, indeed, has prevented this industry from attempting to operate in this state.
If interpreted as asserted by Kip, it would mean that our party and its legislative staffs had intentionally crafted legislation that does just that. Kip’s communication was a damaging signal to this multibillion dollar industry that the state is not interested in what it can contribute to California’s economy, nor does it want this industry’s help in meeting California’s goals as set forth in AB 32, the LCFS, your 33% RPS, or its mandate for 10% ethanol blending.
I wish I would have had a call from you, or at least that someone involved in the industry would have received a call from you before this action was taken, apparently in your name. Frankly, however, no one anticipated that the President Pro Tem would directly involve himself in a legal opinion issued by an Executive Agency.
On the legal point involved, the legislature does not engage in an idle act. The gasification definition was intended to be a departure from the original AB 939, which code sections they amend (and for which, I parenthetically would like to point out, I was the chief Senate negotiator). What is significant here is what the legislature intended, and not what an individual Senator, Assembly member, or highly placed staff person wanted, no matter what his relationship was with the original legislation or subsequent amendments to it.
When Section 40117 of the PRC was placed in statute, the legislature obviously intended to ease the permitting process for gasification technologies. It provided for an entirely new and separate methodology whereby gasification could be permitted over and above the obtaining of a solid waste permit, and through which its feedstocks would qualify for landfill reduction credit and the RPS.
Without this section, gasification would have been treated exactly the same way as every other conversion technology. It would have been stuck in transformation, equating these non-combustion technologies with incineration, where statewide policy makes it virtually impossible for any conversion technology to obtain a permit, and where they do not qualify as landfill reduction or for the RPS.
What other reason could there have been for this separate section in statute? The legal office at CalRecycle understands this. That is why we were so disappointed that your letter was written without so much as a call to the industry.
Just in the past 18 months, the Obama administration, which I believe is the most environmentally sensitive administration in our country’s history, has awarded more than $1 billion in direct grants and loan guarantees for the commercialization of organic waste conversion facilities, the very same projects, which some officials in California still stubbornly refuse to allow. As a result, almost none of this money will be spent in California,
For example, Fulcrum BioEnergy, a California company, is now completing a $120 million US DOE loan guarantee, with which they will construct a thermal conversion facility that will co-produce ethanol and electricity from solid waste, just across the border in Nevada. The feedstock for this plant will come, in part, from El Dorado County, which, by shipping their wastes through the Lake Tahoe region for processing in Nevada, will quality for landfill diversion in California, and the power that is produced, if sold back into California, will qualify as renewable under California's RPS. Is this in our state’s best interest? Of course not.
These technologies have been rapidly permitted, have begun construction, or are already operating across Canada and in at least ten states, including our neighbors: Oregon and Nevada. Would this be happening if they represented a threat to the environment? Of course not.
It has long been established, and confirmed by a study by the University of California–Riverside, that these emerging technologies can meet the highest standards of emissions anywhere in the world, let alone California.
Does it make sense for this state to continue to place 35 million tons of post-recycled waste in landfills every year, when they could potentially support the in-state production of 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol and 1250 MW of power? Of course not.
The logic of utilizing our post-recycled waste streams as a feedstock for renewable energy production is so clear and universally recognized, everywhere but in California, that the short-sighted view of a minority of members of our party is already becoming the subject of ridicule.
The Plasco Energy Group intends to comply with all applicable state and local laws and legitimate environmental standards in permitting their Salinas project, for which they were selected after more than two years of competitive bidding and due diligence by the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority.
In a free-market economy, the waste-to-clean-energy industry has just as much right to be permitted and operate under California’s stringent environmental laws as any other. National security, the economy, energy independence, and an improved environment demand this.
David A. Roberti
I think it is high time to bring this matter to a head. So if you’d like to share your thoughts with us, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.