Maryland will soon provide clean energy incentives for waste-to-energy plants that incinerate trash to produce electricity, like this one operating in Baltimore.
State Sen. Thomas Middleton sponsored the bill, which would put the incinerators on par with wind and solar power.
Middleton says the incinerators burn trash to create steam that produces electricity. And he says the move means less garbage in landfills and more money in taxpayers' pockets.
"It takes out of our waste stream millions of tons of potential renewable energy that Maryland consumers don't have to spend," he says.
"It also avoids the methane gas that, if it were going into the landfill, would be released into the atmosphere, and helps us to reduce our foreign oil dependency," he continues.
But Alana Wase, conservation program coordinator for the Maryland Sierra Club, says incinerators will increase pollution and discourage residents from recycling. She says incinerators should not be put in the same category as renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind power.
"They'd like us to believe that it's a clean energy source but the toxins that are in our trash don't just disappear when they're burned," she says.
In a statement, O'Malley says the legislation will help Maryland reach its goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022.
"The question is not whether waste-to-energy facilities are better for the environment than coal-fired generation or better for the environment than the land-filling of trash, but rather whether waste-to-energy facilities are better than the combination of coal and land filling, based on the best available science," he says. "The answer to that question is a qualified 'yes.'"
O'Malley also promises to ensure vigorous regulation of the incinerators. He is expected to sign the bill today.