EPA Defers GHG Permitting for Carbon-Emitting Biomass Sources by Three Years

Greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting requirements for carbon dioxide as they apply to biomass-fired and other biogenic sources of power will be deferred three years so that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could have enough time to better weigh the issue, the federal agency announced today.

The EPA added that after it reviews “further independent scientific analysis” of what it termed a “complex issue,” it would develop rulemaking by July 2011 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 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. She added that the decision was made having considered that “renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”

During the analysis period, the EPA will also plan to consider the more than 7,000 comments it received from its July 2010 Call for Information, “including comments noting that burning certain types of biomass may emit the same amount of CO2 emissions that would be emitted if they were not burned as fuel, while others may result in a net increase in CO2 emissions.” 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.

The EPA will also issue guidance soon that should provide a basis that state or local permitting authorities could 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 the three-year deferral in July.

In a separate but related letter, the EPA notified the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) that it will grant its petition to reconsider the portion of the May 2010 Tailoring Rule that addresses the same issue. A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers along with state and local political leaders across the nation had joined NAFO in urging the EPA to amend the Tailoring Rule’s treatment of woody biomass energy before the rule took effect on Jan. 2.

NAFO had in December published an economic impact study that found the rule would jeopardize more than 130 renewable energy projects and would cost $18 billion in capital investment across the country. “The risk of reduced capacity also could prevent as many as 30 states from meeting national renewable energy targets,” the organization said.

The study also found that the regulatory uncertainty created by the EPA contributed to stalled investment in “at least 23 near-term projects representing 1,519 megawatts of potential electrical capacity.” Additionally, it noted that developers of a number of additional projects affected by the rule have chosen to remain anonymous.

According to the EPA, carbon emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources are generated “during the combustion or decomposition of biologically based material.” Sources covered by the decision would include facilities that emit carbon dioxide as a result of burning forest or agricultural products for energy, wastewater treatment and livestock management facilities, landfills, and fermentation processes for ethanol production.

On January 2, 2011, air permitting requirements began for large GHG-emitting industrial sources—including power plants and refineries—that are planning to build new facilities or make major modifications to existing ones. These facilities must obtain air permits and implement energy efficiency measures or, where available, install cost-effective technology to reduce their GHG emissions.

Sources: EPA, POWERnews, NAFO

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