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EPA Defers Greenhouse Gas Permitting Requirements for Biomass
The EPA is starting an expedited rulemaking process which will allow the deferment of greenhouse gas permitting requirements for biomass for three years beginning in July.

By DeAnna Stephens Baker
Date Posted: 2/1/2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deferred greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting requirements for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources for three years.

            The agency plans to issue guidance shortly to provide a basis that state or local permitting authorities may use to conclude that the use of biomass as fuel is the best available control technology for GHG emissions until the agency can complete an action on a three-year deferral in July.

            In May 2010, in a move that ignored federal precedent and overturned previous EPA policy which recognized the carbon neutral benefits of biomass, the EPA decided to subject emissions from biomass facilities to the same regulation as fossil fuel emissions under the Clean Air Act. Under the final Prevention of Significant Discharge (PSD) Tailoring rule, which was used to define what stationary sources would be subject to emission controls and regulations beginning in January 2011, the EPA said that biomass emissions would be included when calculating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the time, the EPA said that an exclusion for biomass sources could not be justified, as comments against including biomass did not provide information that demonstrated that an overwhelming permitting burden would still exist.

            The agency made the deferment announcement on January 12, 2011, the week after the requirement had gone into effect. The EPA intends to use this time to seek further independent scientific analysis of the issue and develop a rulemaking on how these emissions should be treated in determining whether a Clean Air Act permit is required.

            “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,” said Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator. “Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”

            The announcement was met with praise by many in the forest products industry and beyond who had been concerned that the inclusion of biomass in calculating GHG emissions for regulation could discourage the responsible development and utilization of renewable biomass.

            “Treating biomass emissions like fossil fuel threatens beneficial investments in biomass energy upgrades at paper and wood products mills throughout the country,” said Donna Harmon, president and CEO of American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA). “The forest products industry is the leading producer and user of carbon-neutral, renewable biomass energy. Paper and wood products mills generate two-thirds of their energy on average from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass. Studies have shown that using wood biomass to produce forest products and the associated renewable energy sustains nine times more jobs than stand-alone energy production. These are high paying, family-wage jobs that are critical for the rural communities where our mills are located.”

            A study released in December that the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) commissioned Forisk Consulting to conduct found that the Tailoring Rule’s current treatment of biomass energy emissions would put over 130 renewable energy projects “at risk” for cancellation or delays and that the regulatory uncertainty created by the EPA had contributed to stalled investment in at least 23 near-term projects representing 1,519 megawatts of potential electrical capacity.

            Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said he supported the EPA’s decision for expedited rulemaking so that it can defer greenhouse gas permitting requirements for biomass for three years.

            “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,” said Secretary Vilsack. “In many cases, energy produced from biomass will provide significant reductions of greenhouse gases relative to fossil fuels.”

            The EPA said that it plans to complete a rulemaking that will defer permitting requirements for CO2 emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources for three years by July 2011. During the three-year period, the agency will seek input on critical scientific issues from its partners within the federal government and from outside scientists who have relevant expertise and further consider the more than 7,000 comments it received from its July 2010 Call for Information. Before the end of the three-year period, the agency intends to issue a second rulemaking that determines how these emissions should be treated or counted under GHG permitting requirements.

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