King County Council member Kathy Lambert hosted a panel discussion yesterday afternoon on "The Science, Politics, and Policy of Waste" to drum up support for a Waste-to-Energy incinerator in King County. As Cienna slogged here, these incinerators are very popular in Europe because they reduce energy costs, reduce dependence on foreign fuel, and are less harmful to the environment than landfills. They particularly make sense in areas where landfill space is scarce and environmental awareness is high. But would they make sense in a place in King County, home to both densely populated cities and rural one-horse towns like Enumclaw?

Cedar Hill, King County's only remaining landfill, is scheduled to close in 2018, and King County policy says that no new landfills should be built there (it's located in Maple Valley). We already do a pretty good job of recycling when compared to the rest of the US, but the rest of our trash still has to go somewhere. Enter Lambert's push for the waste-to-energy option.

Lambert's goal in hosting this confab was to let the various King County environmental groups, city mayors, media, and citizens know about the science behind waste-to-energy plants, and allow them ask technical questions of actual German engineers. The presentation was long on statistics and figures (the average American generates 1686 pounds of trash a year! Germany recycles 64% of their trash!).

The German contingent of the panel discussed ways the election of Green Party members to Parliament spurred their embrace of waste-to-energy programs and how they've reduced greenhouse gas emissions, phased out landfills, created renewable energy, and kept garbage disposal costs reasonable. The American contingent of the panel lamented that there were only 89 waste-to-energy plants in the US, and many of them are over a decade old and less efficient than the ones being built now. In the Pacific Northwest, the three waste-to-energy plants currently operating are located in Spokane, Washington, Marion County, Oregon, and the British Columbia city of Burnaby.

Building one of these plants in King County would be daunting: First, the draft of the King County Solid Waste Plan has to be approved. Then, all the cities in the county (and their mayors) need to come on board, and the King County Council has to vote on it. Then, five potential sites have to be proposed and evaluated before one is chosen. If everything went smoothly, it would still take four to five years before ground could be broken on the incinerator.

The investment seems worthwhile. Every plant built would create about 60 decently-paying jobs, keep us from having to ship our trash elsewhere, and help end that EuroTrash envy.