EPA Carbon Pollution Rule Treats Biomass Like Fossil Fuels

On May 13, the U.S. EPA released the Final GHG Tailoring Rule setting emissions thresholds that will determine when and which facilities will be required to hold permits for emitting greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Under this rule, emissions from facilities producing energy from biomass feedstocks (including wood chips, biogas, and other organic waste materials) will be treated identically to those from facilities using fossil fuels. Until now, scientific analysis and energy policy (including the draft American Power Act) have considered bioenergy to be carbon neutral, with the understanding that biogenic carbon is part of a closed terrestrial carbon cycle. Recently, however, a number of environmental groups and scientists have questioned this logic, arguing that bioenergy has the potential to increase net atmospheric carbon stocks if harvest exceeds growth over a particular timescale and spatial extent. For that reason, a group of 90 scientists recently wrote a letter letter to both Houses of Congress asking that climate and energy legislation include mechanisms to ensure that bioenergy applications are verifiably carbon neutral and that biomass feedstocks are sourced sustainably. A number of forestry groups and biomass advocates forestry groups and biomass advocates feel that this rule, if implemented, could become a major obstacle to the development of biomass as a renewable source of low-carbon energy and an indirect incentive for continued reliance on fossil fuels. Although EPA decided not to give bioenergy special treatment under this rule, they acknowledged that the rationale exists for continuing to explore how biomass may be given different treatment as the process evolves. EPA is planning on seeking further public comment on this topic as they proceed into the implementation phase.