Michigan lawmaker wants to call burning tires “renewable energy”

Old tires
CC BY 2.0 Jayme del Rosario

A Michigan house representative is trying to re-define renewable energy, with a bill that would make burning tires and other industrial solid waste count towards the state’s mandate of generating 10 percent of its energy from renewables.

Aric Nesbitt introduced the bill to Michigan’s house of representatives on March 15 of this year. The bill states that, if passed, it will “remove unnecessary burdens on the appropriate use of solid was as a clean energy source.”

The bill would also repeal Michigan’s energy efficiency law, which currently requires utilities to create programs that reduce energy use by one percent annually.

The idea of diverting waste like used tires and industrial by-products from landfills may seem like an ecological good, and the United States Environmental protection Agency does recognize “Tire-Derived Fuel” as an “alternate energy source.” Yet waste-to-energy programs raise some serious concerns. First, the process of burning these materials can release a number of toxins into the air, and can still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Secondly, it’s something of a mistake to think of plastics, tires and other petroleum-based products, even as we dispose of staggering amounts of them each year, as a renewable resource. Most plastics are by-products of the fossil-fuel industry, a decidedly limited resource. Finally, burning these materials may hinder the kinds of innovation that could either find true recycling solutions or move away from the disposable product designs.

Michigan has higher energy costs compared to other states in the Midwest, yet truly clean renewable energy sources like wind and solar are viable options. According to the advocacy group Clean Water Action, wind power would be a cheaper option and could help the state meet 30 percent of its energy needs with renewables.

This isn’t Nesbitt’s first try at re-defining a tire fire. A similar bill the lawmaker introduced last year actually passed Michigan’s House with a vote of 63 to 46, but failed to get out of the state Senate.

“Burning tires and counting it as 'renewable energy' sounds as ridiculous as stacking up ketchup packets and claiming you ate your vegetables,” wrote Lisa Wozniak, the Executive Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. "But with much more serious consequences."

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