Pollution Credits Let Dumps Double Dip
CAPE MAY COUNTY, N.J. -- America's garbage dumps are reaping a windfall from the fight against global warming. But their payday might not be doing much to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
For more than a decade, the landfill here has made extra profit simply by collecting methane given off by rotting trash, and selling it as fuel. Last year, the landfill learned that doing this also qualified it to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars via a new program that pays companies to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions.
Eliminating methane lets dumps sell "carbon credits" to environmentally conscious people and companies. The long-term goal of trading credits -- basically, vouchers representing reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases -- is to reduce global pollution by encouraging others to cut emissions when the buyers of the credits can't or won't cut their own.
"It seemed a little suspicious that we could get money for doing nothing," says Charles Norkis, executive director of the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority, which has raised $427,475 selling credits since February, or 3% of the authority's projected solid-waste revenue for the year.
The sale of credits by these landfills undermines a premise of the global fight against climate change. The credit system was designed to encourage pollution cuts that wouldn't have happened without a financial incentive. But the credits aren't helping the environment if they're merely providing extra profit for cleanups already made. And dumps already have an incentive to capture methane because selling it can be profitable.
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