A Dirty Waste—How Renewable Energy Policies Have Financed the Unsustainable Waste-to-Energy Industry

The end of the 20th Century saw a major shift in the United States’ approach to energy policy. After decades focused on fossil fuel production, the country began to realize that renewable sources of energy were the way of the future. Motivated by environmental concerns and a realization that oil is a finite resource, the federal government and local governments began adopting economic policies that rewarded investment in and production of renewable, clean technology. Governments relied on both mandates and tax incentives to encourage the use of energy from sources like solar and wind power. Waste- to-Energy (“WTE”) power is another form of energy production that is classified as renewable. Thus, WTE has benefited significantly from renewable energy policies. WTE, however, is a form of energy produced by burning trash and is neither environmentally friendly nor particularly sustainable. Yet, the WTE industry owes its existence to those government programs designed to fund sustainable sources of electricity. With WTE drawing from the same pot of government resources, the policies that were written to stimulate the sustainable energy field and protect the environment have undermined those very goals by subsidizing the WTE industry. This Note summarizes the WTE pro- cess and the laws that allowed it to grow, argues that WTE is not economical- ly sound or environmentally sustainable, and proposes legislative changes to prevent more harm from WTE in the future.