EPA delays climate rules for biomass energy

“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,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement. 

“Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change,” she added.

Lawmakers, including Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), have pushed EPA to exclude biomass emissions from the permitting rules.

How to account for emissions from burning plant is a matter of debate, and EPA received scores of comments when it issued a call for information on the issue last year.

“EPA will . . . further consider the more than 7,000 comments it received from its July 2010 Call for Information, including comments noting that burning certain types of biomass may emit the same amount of CO2 emissions that would be emitted if they were not burned as fuel, while others may result in a net increase in CO2 emissions,” EPA said Wednesday in announcing the delay.

EPA’s action drew quick praise from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“America’s forest owners, farmers and ranchers can play a crucial role in providing renewable energy from wood, switchgrass and other agricultural products. Homegrown energy can provide jobs in rural America while reducing greenhouse gases,” he said.

“EPA’s action today will provide the agency with the time it needs to ensure that greenhouse-gas policies properly account for the emissions and carbon sequestration associated with biomass. In many cases, energy produced from biomass will provide significant reductions of greenhouse gases relative to fossil fuels,” Vilsack added.

But Frank O’Donnell, head of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, was less charitable.

“This is another concession by EPA to its critics both in industry and Congress. EPA has been under heavy political pressure, even by some of its nominal friends in Congress, to push back these requirements,” he said.

He added, however, that EPA “has made a plausible scientific case to delay these requirements.”

The Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers, applauded EPA. The group said the permitting requirements would have applied to many ethanol plants because of emissions from ethanol fermentation.

“EPA’s deferral of permitting requirements for biogenic emissions sources is good news, and it is the right step, given that the science clearly shows using biomass for energy does not add to atmospheric CO2 levels on a net basis,” said Bob Dinneen, the group’s president.

The decision will affect other industries, too. "Sources covered by this decision would include facilities that emit CO2 as a result of burning forest or agricultural products for energy, wastewater treatment and livestock management facilities, landfills and fermentation processes for ethanol production," EPA said Wednesday.