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Massachusetts’ First Permitted Food Waste to Fuel Operation Won Through a Collaborative Approach

Practice: Development/Land Use, Environmental, Green Business
People: Ned Abelson, David A. Lewis, John E. Twohig

For many years, Stop & Shop has creatively managed the waste generated by its unsold food products by donating to food banks the items from its shelves that remain edible and composting much of the rest. In the past two years, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (“MassDEP”) identified a Massachusetts-wide two-part goal of (1) diverting food and organic waste from landfills and (2) converting that waste into a productive fuel source. In 2013, when MassDEP adopted final regulations governing the development and operation of innovative technology for food-to-fuel conversion processes, Stop & Shop determined it had an opportunity to be a market leader by developing the first food-to-fuel conversion operation in Massachusetts to be permitted under the new regulatory program.

With a new and untested set of regulations in place concerning the development of food-to-fuel conversion operations, Stop & Shop sought out the permitting, land use, and environmental regulation experience of Goulston & Storrs lawyers John Twohig and Ned Abelson. Stop & Shop, a long-time client of Goulston & Storrs, knew John and Ned were the right lawyers to help connect them to the right people and obtain the permits needed to install this cutting edge technology.

Permitting and Environmental Expertise

Goulston & Storrs has significant experience with new and complex permitting and environmental regulations. Tasked with helping Stop & Shop develop the first permitted food-to-fuel operation in Massachusetts (and only the second in the entire U.S.), the Goulston team developed a proactive, collaborative strategy to obtain the required permits and approvals. John and Ned advised and worked with a team comprised of key executives from Stop & Shop, engineers at FEED Resource Recovery Inc. (the designer and operator of the food-to-fuel technology), and professionals at the engineering firm VHB in connection with the team’s interactions with MassDEP and local officials. 

John and Ned worked closely with VHB to leverage relationships with officials at MassDEP to determine how best to undertake a new and complex permitting process.  In addition, Goulston’s understanding of how the new regulations had been developed proved valuable in applying the previously untested set of regulations to Stop & Shop’s proposed project. As a result, Stop & Shop successfully obtained all of the necessary state permits, including the first-ever issued Recycling, Conversion, Compost (“RCC”) Permit for the anaerobic digestion technology that supports Stop & Shop’s food-to-fuel conversion operation. Under the RCC permit, the anaerobic digestion equipment will break down food and organic waste to produce a biogas that will provide a portion of the power for Stop & Shop’s distribution center.

The Goulston attorneys also helped Stop & Shop develop and execute a strategy for obtaining the required approvals from the local government in the town where Stop & Shop plans to build its food-to-fuel conversion operation. Assistance from another Goulston attorney, Dave Lewis, was valuable here. With Goulston’s strategic advice, Stop & Shop reached out to and engaged neighbors and local decisionmakers early on in the process. As a result, Stop & Shop received its local permits and approvals without any local opposition. Local officials were pleased to learn that Stop & Shop’s project would reduce actually truck traffic to the distribution center where the food-to-fuel operation is located by eliminating trucks that send unsold food off-site to landfills.

An Outstanding Result

With the new permits currently in hand, Stop & Shop is the first company to bring the promising anaerobic digestion food-to-fuel technology to Massachusetts and the first to obtain an RCC permit from MassDEP.  Stop & Shop proudly continues its practice of sending whatever unsold food product it can to food pantries before sending anything for conversion, but is excited to be at the forefront of deploying an emerging renewable energy process. For its part, MassDEP and the Governor now have a model for executing a successful permitting process for future anaerobic digestion operations under the RCC program.  Goulston is proud to be a leader in navigating the MassDEP permitting and environmental regulatory process, securing local government support, and helping its client achieve a successful start to its innovative development. 

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