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Converting Brownfield Environmental Negatives into Energy Positives

63 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2009  

Steven Ferrey

Suffolk University Law School

Date Written: February 24, 2009


There is a new paradigm for evaluating landfills. While landfills are contaminated repositories of hazardous wastes, they also are brownfields that can be redeveloped for renewable energy development. It is possible to view landfills through a new lens: As endowed areas of renewable energy potential that can be magnets for a host of renewable development incentives. Landfills also are critical resource areas for the control of greenhouse gases. Landfill materials decompose into methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than twenty times more potent -- molecule for molecule -- than carbon dioxide. This Article traces the molecular composition of waste in landfills, analyzing the chemical stew that brews in these repositories. Without doubt, landfills in America are brownfields. And many of these landfills leak and cause public health risks. This Article also analyzes the potential to utilize landfill gas for electricity production or as a thermal resource. It evaluates the energy potential at municipal sewage treatment plants and the ability to utilize the land at landfills to host wind turbines. The environmental regulatory envelope that surrounds landfill operation is explored. Also analyzed are the various incentives that foster renewable energy development and are applicable to landfill brownfields development. These include tax credits, tax-preferenced financing, renewable energy credits under state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) systems in twenty-two states, and direct renewable trust fund subsidies in sixteen states, as well as net metering available in forty states. Finally, creative techniques to mitigate derivative environmental liability under Superfund, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and similar state laws that can accompany energy operations at a landfill, are suggested.

Suggested Citation

Ferrey, Steven, Converting Brownfield Environmental Negatives into Energy Positives (February 24, 2009). Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, Vol. 34, p. 417, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Steven Ferrey (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

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