EPA to delay CO2 regulation of biomass, biogenic sources

By Erin Voegele | January 12, 2011

On Jan. 12 the U.S. EPA announced a plan to defer greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting requirements for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that result from biomass-fired and biogenic sources for three years. According to the agency, the three-year deferral period will be gather further scientific analysis on the complex issue, and to develop rulemaking that determines how CO2 emissions from these sources should be treated in determining whether a Clean Air Act permit is required.

In its announcement, the agency described CO2 emissions from biomass-fired or other biogenic sources as including those generated during the combustion or decomposition of biologically based material. Sources covered by this decision would include facilities that emit CO2 as a result of burning forest or agricultural products for energy. It also includes wastewater treatment and livestock management facilities, landfills and facilities that employ fermentation processes, such as those used to produce ethanol. Biorefineries that burn biomass for process heat and those that employ fermentation processes are likely to be impacted.

The EPA officially began the process to regulate GHG emissions in Dec. 2009, when it issued its GHG endangerment finding. The finding asserted that GHGs threaten the health and welfare of the American people. The finding was issued in response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that GHG emissions fit within the CAA’s definition of pollutants. The endangerment finding allowed the agency to finalize GHG standards for light-duty vehicles. It also opened the door to regulating these emissions under parts of the CAA.

In fact, once a pollutant is regulated under one portion of the CAA, regulation is triggered under all areas of the act. To prevent CO2 emissions from small sources, such as home furnaces, to be regulated, the EPA also established the Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule, which essentially set regulation thresholds for the regulation of GHGs via PSD and Title V permitting.

The announcement made the agency on Jan. 12 regarding CO2 from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources will ultimately delay the regulation of CO2 from these sources under the CAA for three years. According to the EPA, it plans to complete rulemaking to defer permitting requirements for these sources by July 2011.

“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “In the coming years we will develop a commonsense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy. Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”

During the three-year deferment period, the agency will seek input on critical scientific issues from its partners within the federal government and from outside scientists with relevant expertise. It will also further consider the more than 7,000 comments is received as a result of its July 2010 Call for Information. Some of these comments claimed that burning certain types of biomass can result in the same quantity of CO2 emissions that would be emitted even if they were not burned as fuel, while burning other sources of biomass would actually result in a net increase of CO2 emissions. Before the end of the deferral period, the EPA says it intends to issue additional rulemaking that determines how these emissions should be treated or counted under GHG permitting requirements.

In the meantime, the agency said it will be issuing guidance to provide a basis that state and local permitting authorities may use to conclude that biomass fuel qualifies as the best available control technology (BACT) for GHG emissions. This action will benefit entities that may face GHG permitting requirements before the final rule for the three-year deferment period is issued in July. In addition, the EPA will notify the National Alliance of Forest Owners that its petition to reconsider the portion of the May 2010 tailoring that addresses the same issue will be granted.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has expressed his support of the EPA’s announcement. "America's forest owners, farmers and ranchers can play a crucial role in providing renewable energy from wood, switch grass and other agricultural products,” he said. “Homegrown energy can provide jobs in rural America while reducing greenhouse gases. Markets for woody biomass in particular can be especially important in allowing the US Forest Service and other landowners to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire while restoring more natural conditions in our forests. 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. In many cases, energy produced from biomass will provide significant reductions of greenhouse gases relative to fossil fuels. USDA looks forward to working with EPA in ensuring that this administration's policies use the best science and spur innovation and job creation in the renewable energy sector."


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