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Should Our Trash Become Energy?

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors would like to develop area garbage into renewable biofuels and reduce waste.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called Tuesday for changes in federal and state regulations that hinder the development of technologies that turn trash into energy.

Supervisor Don Knabe recommended the step to help the county better manage waste that currently ends up in landfills.

"Conversion technologies have the capability to reduce the amount of waste send to landfills, decrease air emissions and create jobs," Knabe said.

Los Angeles County Public Works Director Gail Farber said the county has been working on more sustainable waste management solutions for several years.

"While our efforts have resulted in one of the highest trash recycling rates in the nation, more than eight million tons of waste still ends up in county landfills each year," Farber said. "In lieu of burying trash, innovative conversion technologies have the potential to convert this waste into billions of gallons of renewable biofuels."

Dozens of other countries successfully use those technologies, but development in California has been hampered by decades-old regulations that only envisioned trash being buried or burned, Farber said.

Knabe said Gov. Jerry Brown recently sent a letter to a private conversion technology company expressing support for legislation that would allow a pilot trash conversion project to move forward and be eligible for treatment as a renewable energy resource.

The county will press legislators to modernize ordinances and work with conversion technology companies to identify changes necessary to develop the technology while meeting California's strict environmental standards.

The board also agreed to press the Sanitation Districts to stick to a plan to close the Puente Hills Landfill next year. The facility, formerly known as the San Gabriel Dump, opened in 1957 and was set to close in 1983, again in 1993 and then in 2003, but multiple extensions were granted.

"It is very clear now, just one year away from the planned closure date, that there is an end-run campaign to keep the landfill open," Knabe said.

The Sanitation Districts are governed by a board comprised of representatives from each of the cities in the county and the chair of the Board of Supervisors. But any request for an extension would require approval by the Regional Planning Commission and would ultimately come before the Board of Supervisors.

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