Feds pay $105M to turn garbage, feces into fuel

Critics of the Agriculture Department say the agency is literally “flushing taxpayer money down the toilet” by funding a multi-million project to turn feces and garbage into a source of renewable energy.

The USDA announced this week it is providing Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels with a $105 million loan to build a facility in Nevada that will attempt to turn municipal solid waste into jet and diesel fuel. 

But the fiscally conservative Taxpayers Protection Alliance says the project smells like another Solyndra in the making. In 2011, the solar startup went out of business, costing taxpayers more than $500 million.

"It appears that this program is now turning waste into more waste,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

“Washington is used to flushing taxpayer money down the toilet, but now they’re having taxpayers pay for what’s in the toilet they’re flushing the money down,” he added.

While Fulcrum said it does not use sewage as part of the process, Williams pointed out that animal feces and baby diapers are often found in the garbage that Fulcrum will be using to make renewable energy.

However, Fulcrum spokesman Rick Barraza said the company will do its best to take out the baby diapers before it begins the process of turning waste into fuel.

"We're going to sort most of that out because it's got too much moisture in there and we don't want that in the waste stream," he said.

Barraza defended the USDA’s loan, saying it would help create green jobs.

"The USDA loan guarantee commitment is a strong endorsement of Fulcrum's innovative process for converting garbage to low-carbon transportation fuels that will help generate new green jobs in Northern Nevada and across the U.S," he said.

The USDA remains optimistic about the facility, projecting that Fulcrum will produce 11 million gallons of renewable fuel each year.

The company has already contracted with Cathay Pacific Airways to supply 375 million gallons of fuel over 10 years, accounting for about 2 percent of the airline’s fuel usage.

"This represents a huge step forward in the development of clean, renewable, job-creating American fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE said. "The nation is entering a new energy age that will make us more energy independent, cut carbon pollution and strengthen our economy, especially in rural communities where clean fuels will be produced." 

The USDA’s loan will cover about 40 percent of the project’s estimated $266 million cost, the agency said.

This story was updated at 6:51 p.m.