The Environmental Protection Agency has changed its tune on regulating greenhouse gases from biomass. Today, the agency announced it is is leaving biomass-fired and other biogenic energy sources out of its greenhouse gas regulations for three years while the agency studies how to treat the related emissions. The new rule exempts facilities that burn wood, crops, manure, sewage, landfill gas and ethanol to make energy.
Northwest leaders are celebrating after months of griping about the EPA's initial plan to treat biomass like fossil fuels in permitting the carbon dioxide emissions. Oregon's congressional delegation sent letters in June and December arguing biomass should be considered a renewable energy source and should be exempt from the EPA greenhouse gas rules that kicked in this year.
“This is great news after a tremendous bipartisan effort in pushing the EPA to finally acknowledge that woody biomass is different than coal," said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). "This will allow a number of projects to move forward in hard hit Southern Oregon and other rural areas of the state. These projects will create needed jobs and clean renewable energy from biomass. I am very pleased that the federal bureaucrats finally got out of the way and are allowing us to do something that makes an awful lot of sense.”
Advocates of wood-fired biomass argue the carbon dioxide being emitted by burning wood for energy would have been released into the atmosphere anyway through decomposition or open burning. The logging slash leftover in Oregon's timber stands, for example, is often burned without any accounting of the carbon dioxide emissions, they say, and a wood-fired biomass plant would release fewer greenhouse gas emissions than an open fire.
The EPA wants to study the issue for three years before deciding whether biomass plants will need to get a Clean Air Act permit for their emissions. Some types of biomass may emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as would be emitted without burning the material for fuel, the agency notes, while others may result in a net increase in emissions.
“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy. In the coming years we will develop a commonsense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”
Over the next three years, the EPA will be taking input on the science of biomass emissions, and will consider more than 7,000 comments it has received on the issue since July 2010. The three-year deferral allows the EPA to grant the National Alliance of Forest Owners request that the EPA reconsider the greenhouse gas Tailoring Rule, which kicked in on Jan. 2 for large greenhouse gas emitting industries such as power plants and refineries.