Court overturns EPA greenhouse gas rule delay

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Tatel added that the rule “nowhere offers an interpretation of the Clean Air Act that would allow the agency to treat biogenic carbon dioxide sources differently.”

“I think the really significant thing about the ruling for me was how much it recognizes the science, showing that burning biomass can be as bad or worse for the environment as burning fossil fuel,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the EPA.

Unlike fossil fuels, biomass sources emit carbon dioxide naturally, though environmentalists note that it all ends up in the same place.

“In layman’s terms, the atmosphere makes no distinction between carbon dioxide emitted by biogenic and fossil-fuel sources,” Tatel wrote.

Bundy added that the decision was “yet another court ruling affirming EPA’s authority and responsibility to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act.”

In 2011, the EPA issued a rule that would exempt power plants and other industrial sites that use biomass from its regulations on carbon dioxide emissions for three years.  

At the time, the agency said that it needed to further analyze the emissions and figure out how to shape rules to govern when facilities need permits before construction or modification.

Numerous lawmakers and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack praised the EPA’s deferral as a boon to a growing energy source, but environmental groups called it a political concession to industry and members of Congress.

Later that year, a coalition of environmental groups sued the agency. 

The Friday ruling should lead the EPA to quickly issue regulations for biomass emissions, according to some groups that supported the original exemption.

“The urgency of the situation has now increased significantly,” said Dave Tenny, president of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, in a statement.

Biomass Power Association President and Chief Executive Bob Cleaves added in a statement that the industry wants a "simple, streamlined approach for greenhouse gas emissions from biogenic sources—emissions that regulators throughout the world have deemed fundamentally different from fossil sources.

“Our industry needs regulatory certainty so that biomass resources can be utilized to their fullest extent."

-- This story was updated at 6:15 p.m.