As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rolled out its existing source performance standards for coal-fired power plants Monday, under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the biomass energy sector searched for clues as to how the agency will choose to address the complexities of modeling the emissions from biomass power, referred to as biogenic carbon. Broadly, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan will mandate a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing power plants by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels, and allows for flexibility within state implementation plans. Options available to states include energy-efficiency programs, renewable energy standards, co-firing, transmission efficiencies, retirements, and others. It is critical to establish sustainable biomass energy as one solution available to states in lowering their overall carbon intensity.

While the existing power plant regulations don’t lay out EPA’s final accounting framework for biogenic carbon, expected to be finalized later this year, the proposed rules include encouraging language regarding the fundamental difference in carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels versus the burning of biomass that is re-grown and thus able to sequester additional carbon. In the Clean Power Plan regulations, EPA states, “the plant growth associated with producing many of the biomass-derived fuels can, to varying degrees for different biomass feedstocks, sequester carbon from the atmosphere. For example, America’s forests currently play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing nearly 12 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. As a result, broadly speaking, burning biomass-derived fuels for energy recovery can yield climate benefits as compared to burning conventional fossil fuels.” The EPA language on the potential of biomass as a carbon emissions reduction strategy echoes the findings of the National Climate Assessment (NCA), which found that forests and wood products currently store the equivalent of16 percent of fossil fuel’s carbon emissions in the United States.

The biomass power and advanced biofuels industries lauded the language, but urged EPA to quantify biogenic carbon, in order to provide a workable framework for the industry. A coalition of 12 democratic senators, led by Senators Merkley (D-OR) and Stabenow (D-MI), have also urged EPA to create “simple and implementable” standards that “recognize that woody biomass doesn’t increase carbon in the air so long as overall forest stocks are stable or increasing.” Sustainable forestry practices can support carbon reduction goals, while also providing local jobs and energy, but the benefits of biomass energy – and inherent differences from fossil fuel use – must be quantified.


For more information see: 

EPA CO2 Reduction Proposal Could be Positive for Biomass Energy, Biomass Magazine. 

Senators Advocate for EPA Biogenic Carbon Emissions Framework, Biomass Magazine. 


Author: Jessie Stolark