EPA Defers GHG Rules for Biomass and Biogenic Sources

by | Jan 13, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is granting an exemption under its controversial greenhouse-gas requirements that will provide a three-year reprieve for biomass facilities that burn wood chips and other biomass products to generate electricity.

The deferral, which takes effect in July, came after members of Congress put pressure on the EPA to ease up on regulations. Congressmen said the stringent rules on industrial carbon emissions would get in the way of developing a new biomass industry that could become a major job creator and a source of domestically produced fuel, Eco World reports.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) issued a statement saying, “The EPA was precariously close to enforcing new job-killing regulations, and with the urging of a bipartisan congressional effort, made the right decision in reversing course.”

EPA said it was deferring permitting requirements for the biomass facilities for at least three years, citing the need for more scientific analysis.

“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and  manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

Biomass products, such as scrap lumber or agricultural waste, emit carbon dioxide when they are burned. But biomass facilities have asked for special treatment because they say emissions are offset by the carbon dioxide that trees absorb throughout their life. The facilities also say tree scraps, if not burned, would decay and emit methane, another greenhouse gas.

Many of the approximately 7,000 comments EPA received from its July 2010 Call for Information argue that burning certain types of biomass materials does not cause a net increase in CO2 emissions.

But others say biomass isn’t as green as it seems. Meg Sheehan of the Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign in Cambridge, Mass. claims that the EPA is ignoring the fact that biomass produces more greenhouse gas than coal.

“I find it very disturbing that the Obama administration and [USDA] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack are punting on making this decision until after the next presidential election,” AP quoted Sheehan as saying. “I think it shows extreme disregard for the health of the American people.”

By July, EPA plans to introduce rules that will defer permitting requirements for CO2 emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources for three years. During the three-year period, the agency will seek input on critical scientific issues from within the federal government and from outside scientists who have relevant expertise.

Until then, EPA said it will issue interim guidance for state or local permitting authorities to help them determine if the use of biomass as fuel is the best available control technology for GHG emissions.

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