EPA Should Impose Moratorium on Role of Biomass in Power Plan, Senators Say

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By Ari Natter

May 8 --The Environmental Protection Agency should impose a moratorium on the use of biomass as renewable energy in the Clean Power Plan, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said May 8, arguing that including the fuel could undermine the plan's intended purpose of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Markey and Warren noted that Massachusetts eliminated renewable energy subsidies for utlity-scale, wood-burning power plants after a 2013 study found they compromised the state’s ability to achieve its emissions reduction targets.

“As EPA knows, wood-burning power plants emit around 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour,” they wrote. “The EPA should not approve biomass combustion as a compliance method under the Plan until the agency has a method in place to account for facility-level emissions and a means of ensuring that emissions offsetting actually occurs in an appropriate time frame.”

The Clean Power Plan, which would impose the first standards for regulating carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's fleet of existing power plants, would give individual states wide discretion in how those reductions are achieved, including investment in new renewable generation, energy efficiency, improvements to existing power plants and interstate emissions trading. The EPA expects the plan, proposed in June 2014, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels when it is fully implemented in 2030 .

Moratorium Until 2020

“Although we understand that the Plan is not yet final, aspects of the proposed plan indicate that EPA may decide to treat all bioenergy generation as having no greenhouse gas emissions,” the letter said. “We are concerned that including bioenergy as a compliance measure in the Plan could similarly compromise the Plan’s ability to achieve emissions reductions by 2030.”

Specifically, the letter suggested a moratorium on the use of bioenergy as a compliance measure under the plan until 2020, when states have the opportunity to apply for modifications to their implementation plans.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency addressed the issue in November 2014 when it updated the methodology it will use to evaluate the net greenhouse gas impact of facilities that burn biomass .

“We’ve received 4.3 million comments on the proposed Clean Power Plan, including comments on the treatment of biomass,” Purchia said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA. “We’re considering all of the comments we’ve received as we work to finalize the rule this summer.”

Forest Industry Opposed

The American Forest & Paper Association, a trade group the represents companies such as Deltic Timber Corp., Resolute Forest Products and package manufacturer Sonoco Products Co., which also generates power from a biomass fueled boiler, said in a May 8 statement that a moratorium isn't justified.

“Biomass, and particularly our industry’s use of manufacturing residuals, is strongly supported by numerous scientific and technical studies as contributing positively to a low-carbon future,” association President and Chief Executive Officer Donna Harman said. “EPA has already stated they have more than enough information and data to justify inclusion of energy from biomass as a renewable energy source in their Clean Power Plan. Failure to recognize the positive contribution of biomass energy ignores the natural carbon cycle of release and sequestration that occurs when trees are planted, grown, used and then new trees are replanted.”