Dem senators fight with foresters over climate rule

Democratic Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Democratic senators ask inspector general to investigate IRS use of location tracking service MORE and Ed Markey have picked a fight with the biomass industry over the role plant-based energy plays in an Obama administration climate change plan.

Warren and Markey wrote Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Friday asking her to reconsider the way the agency's proposed greenhouse gas rules for power plants incorporate biomass. The plan could end up treating biomass as a source of low-emission energy and letting states use it as a way to comply with emission reduction targets.

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But the senators said they worry about the environmental benefits of using biomass, noting that wood-burning power plants still emit carbon dioxide. Citing studies on the forest growth needed to offset those emissions, Massachusetts recently eliminated renewable energy subsidies for wood-burning plants.

"The EPA should not approve biomass combustion as a compliance method under the plan until the agency has a method in place to account for facility-level emissions and a means of ensuring that emissions offsetting actually occurs in an appropriate timeframe," Warren and Markey wrote.

They suggested biomass not be considered as a compliance method under the plan until 2020 at the earliest, giving the EPA time to further gauge its environmental impact and "focus near-term state efforts on wind, solar, and other zero-carbon renewable energy technologies." 

The pair's letter immediately garnered a response from the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group that supports foresters and wood product manufacturers.

“Biomass, and particularly our industry’s use of manufacturing residuals, is strongly supported by numerous scientific and technical studies as contributing positively to a low-carbon future," the association's President and CEO Donna Harman said in a statement.

The Clean Power Plan looks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by setting reduction targets for states and giving them a variety of ways to meet their goal. In a November memo, the EPA outlined its approach to biomass in the plan, saying it "expects to recognize the biogenic CO2 emissions and climate policy benefits" of biomass, "based on the conclusions supported by a variety of technical studies."

In a statement, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia noted that the agency received 4.3 million comments on the Clean Power Plan, including comments on the biomass issue.

"We’re considering all of the comments we’ve received as we work to finalize the rule this summer," she said.

"EPA has already stated they have more than enough information and data to justify inclusion of energy from biomass as a renewable energy source in their Clean Power Plan," Harmon said.

—This story was updated at 3:58 p.m.