MA House Lawmakers Slip Garbage Burning into “Clean Energy” Proposal

Did they think clean energy advocates wouldn’t notice?  As they enter the final days of the legislative session, Massachusetts state lawmakers are negotiating sweeping policy changes to the state’s clean energy laws. Some bills have been discussed at countless hearings over the past two years, such as proposals to increase the Renewable Portfolio Standard and expand solar energy, while others were only introduced in the final weeks of session – including a proposal to define garbage incineration as “clean energy.”

The “Clean Peak Standard” bill was rushed through the House earlier this month with virtually no public review or discussion. The intent of this bill is to increase deployment of clean energy at peak demand times for power. This approach, which is still being studied in other states, is one of the pet issues advanced by Governor Charlie Baker and has been embraced by House leadership. While the Senate has not included the Clean Peak Standard in its energy package, it is one of the items to be conferenced by the two houses this week.

PFPI and other environmental groups are denouncing an 11th hour amendment to the “Clean Peak Standard” bill[1] that would allow garbage incineration to qualify as “clean energy” under the proposed new program.  The amendment was introduced by Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Bristol) hours before the House unanimously approved the bill.[2] Massachusetts already generates 60% more energy from burning garbage and biomass than it does from wind and solar, [3] adding greenhouse gases and toxic air pollution to the atmosphere, and Massachusetts garbage burners already receive renewable energy subsidies. Why would lawmakers want to provide even more public subsidies to these polluters, particularly during peak demand times when air pollution tends to peak as well?

Garbage incineration is not “clean.”  Garbage burners emit more carbon dioxide and conventional air pollutants per unit of energy than coal plants, and are significant sources of hazardous emissions such as mercury, dioxin, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals. They are also expensive to operate, which is why the incinerator industry is perpetually seeking additional renewable energy subsidies – even though they already receive revenue from both tipping fees and sales of electricity.

Massachusetts has set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and any energy package adopted needs to incentivize zero-emission technologies, not more pollution.  While garbage-burning is still subsidized by the state as “renewable,” the Senate must reject any attempts to make it eligible for “clean” energy subsidies.


[1] H.4756.

[2] Amendment #18 to H4738.

[3] U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration (EIA). Monthly Generation Data by State, Producer Sector and Energy Source ( EIA-923 Report).

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