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EPA to Rule on Biogenic Green House Gas Emissions

Posted by LeAndra Spicer on August 16, 2013
In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary deferment of the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule for biogenic emissions. The tailoring rule establishes the criteria power plants and refineries must abide by in order to comply with Clean Air Act standards for carbon emissions. The deferment, in place since 2011, was set to expire in 2014.

The EPA released its Tailoring Rule – in which biomass was treated no differently than fossil fuels – in June 2010. The agency delayed implementation of the rule as it pertained to biogenic emissions in order to further study if such emissions were subject to regulation and, if so, how to best regulate them.

Shortly thereafter, the Center for Biological Diversity alleged the EPA did not have the authority to exempt large industrial sources that burned biomass from greenhouse gas permitting requirements. The district court agreed and vacated the deferral last month.  According to the court, the EPA failed to provide both adequate justification for the deferral and a plan to regulate carbon emissions produced by bioenergy facilities.

While environmental groups touted the ruling as a victory against burning biomass for energy, in reality, the decision did little more than require the EPA to expedite its final rule. The court addressed only whether the EPA had the legal authority to defer the initial rule. Regardless of legal proceedings, the EPA intended to complete the final rule as required by law, just not quite so soon.

In the interim, groups on both sides of the biomass energy debate are expected to weigh in on what the EPA should do. Fossil-fuel industry representatives are prepared to protect their considerable market share at all costs. Meanwhile, environmentalists are fond of raising the alarm that using trees for energy adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and leads to deforestation.

The fact of the matter is that without a market for forest products, such as wood pellets used for energy, those same trees are just as likely to be felled for other reasons, primarily land development. When forestland owners harvest trees for use in wood products, those lands are replanted. No forests are replanted when houses are built instead.

Data from the EPA reports one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States area a result of electricity production. Seventy percent of electricity is derived from fossil fuels. Managed forests along with other land use have offset 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporters of biomass and renewable energy have been quick to urge the EPA to take into account this data and the long-term carbon scientific evidence that supports the carbon neutrality of biomass should be the primary consideration.

The EPA is expected to issue a draft rule on biogenic emissions within the next few months. A public comment period on the draft rule will follow; then, the EPA will finalize the rule.

Topics: wood bioenergy, forest carbon accounting