EPA, White House Signal Support for Biomass
On June 2, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled the Obama administration’s highly anticipated Section 111(d) carbon emission reduction rules for existing power plants. The Biomass Power Association was watching this announcement carefully, as it marks the first of a series of EPA rules due out this summer that will have a big impact on the biomass industry.
After reviewing the proposed rules, our reaction is cautiously optimistic.
The 645-page proposal, known as the Clean Power Plan, leaves it mostly to individual states to design their own carbon reduction strategies that, when combined, will create a 30 percent overall reduction of carbon emissions from existing power plants by the year 2030. The landmark plan sets what are, in effect, the first national renewable energy targets that have been implemented as a response to climate change. While the rules are controversial and will be debated throughout the 2014 campaign season, they represent a significant shift in energy policy that will undeniably benefit renewable energy sources.
This includes biomass. The framework specifically mentions biomass several times in a positive light, in one place stating, “Burning biomass-derived fuels for energy recovery can yield climate benefits as compared to burning conventional fossil fuels.”
The Clean Power Plan closely follows the National Climate Assessment released in May by the White House, which contained a chapter on bioenergy that was also very supportive of biomass. The report recognized bioenergy as “one component of an overall bioenergy strategy to reduce emissions of carbon from fossil fuel, while also improving water quality, and maintaining lands for timber production as an alternative to other socioeconomic option.” Critically, the report noted the role of biomass in keeping forests healthy enough to continue to serve as a carbon “sink” that can capture hundreds of millions of tons of carbon per year. It also observed that bioenergy has the potential of displacing a not insignificant 30 percent of the nation’s current U.S. petroleum consumption.
Based on these signs, it appears that the administration foresees a continued and expanding role for bioenergy in our nation’s energy mix. However, one question looms large. For the nation to fully embrace biomass, the EPA’s Tailoring Rule decision becomes even more crucial. Biomass will need to be recognized under the Clean Air Act as a renewable source of energy with a favorable carbon profile when compared to fossil fuels.
It will be extremely tough to meet the ambitious new carbon reduction targets without biomass as an option for forested states looking to add a baseload, renewable source of energy. It will be even harder to keep forested lands maintained and at a lower risk of wildfire without our industry, as the USDA is well aware.
While we are not out of the proverbial woods yet, we have good reason to be encouraged by the recent signals from the White House and the EPA.
Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association