Call it the poop-to-power plan.
A Senate committee approved a proposal by Sen. Tom Carper on Wednesday to help fund projects that convert animal waste to heat, power and biofuels.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the measure as part of a broader bill to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The Delaware Democrat's amendment was a concession to farmers, who would be required to reduce a key source of bay pollution: nutrient runoff, mostly generated by fertilizer.
Carper's measure would authorize $30 million over five years for farmers, states, private industry and nonprofit groups that apply for grants to convert manure from livestock, poultry or aquaculture.
"These projects will help farmers not only meet their nutrient reduction goals but also provide farmers with a source of clean, renewable energy, and potentially with additional income," Carper said during Wednesday's committee hearing.
The broader $2 billion cleanup bill, which passed by voice vote and now goes to the Senate, would strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency's role in compelling states to reduce pollution and would give states federal money to meet bay-wide pollution reduction targets by 2025. It also would create an interstate pollution trading program to lower compliance costs and would give farmers in the bay's watershed financial incentives to practice conservation and reduce fertilizer runoff.
During the hearing, Carper and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also won support for an amendment that would lower the matching requirement for the bill's watershed implementation plan grants from 50 percent to 25 percent for Delaware, New York and West Virginia.
The bill and its House version are supported by a coalition of more than 125 advocacy organizations seeking restoration of the bay. But agriculture groups fear it could lead to suits against farmers if water quality standards aren't met, forcing them out of the business.
Don Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation said before the hearing that the federation would support Carper's amendment in "the proper bill." But he said it's a "small amount of salve to swallow, given how bad this bill is."
Carper's grant program would allow the EPA administrator, in coordination with the secretary of agriculture, to provide grants for waste-to-bioenergy projects with "significant potential" to reduce waste volume, recover nutrients, improve water quality and recover energy.
Projects would be prioritized by the level of nutrient reduction achieved, geographic diversity and differing types of animal waste.
Carper said his proposal builds on a project he oversaw years ago as governor of Delaware. Then, the state and poultry giant Perdue put up money to build a facility outside Seaford where poultry litter is pelletized and sold as fertilizer for golf courses and lawns. Fifteen percent of the state's poultry litter is brought there, he said.
"We take what is a waste product with real value ... and we turn it into a marketable commodity," he said in an interview.
No facilities in the state currently turn waste into power, but Carper's office has been investigating technology across the country that could potentially be brought to the Delmarva peninsula. A farm in Mississippi uses a nonincineration method to convert chicken litter to energy.
"Our ability to filter out harmful pollution gets better and better every year," said Carper, who chairs the Environment and Public Works subcommittee on clean air and nuclear power.
At this point, it's unclear who would apply for his grants. That will depend on whether there's a way to make money by converting waste to power.
"If it's commercially viable and environmentally sound and passes regulatory tests ... who knows who might be interested in taking advantage of federal assistance," Carper said.