Letters support carbon neutrality of biomass, national RES

By Lisa Gibson
In a letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders, 114 of the nation's leading environmental scientists express concern over the proposed U.S. EPA's Tailoring Rule equating biogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with fossil fuel emissions. It's "incorrect and will impede the development of renewable biomass energy sources," according to the letter.

The CO2 released from the combustion or decay of woody biomass is part of the global cycle of biogenic carbon and does not increase the carbon in circulation, the scientists wrote. Equating biogenic carbon emissions with that of fossil fuels is not consistent with good science and could stop the development of new emission-reducing biomass energy facilities, they added. "It could also encourage existing biomass energy facilities to convert to fossil fuel or cease producing renewable energy. This is counter to our country's renewable energy and climate mitigation goals."

The EPA's final Tailoring Rule defines which stationary sources will be subject to GHG emission controls and regulations during a phase-in process beginning Jan. 2. Since the draft was released, the biomass industry has argued its emissions should not be included in permitting requirements.

"The CO2 released from burning biomass was absorbed as part of the ‘biogenic' carbon cycle where plants absorb CO2 as they grow (through photosynthesis), and release carbon dioxide as they decay or are burned," the letter states. "This cycle releases no new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is why it is termed ‘carbon neutral.'" Biogenic GHG emissions will occur through tree mortality and decay regardless if the biomass is used as an energy source.

In addition, the scientists argued that biomass power facilities generally contribute to a reduction of GHGs beyond just displacement of fossil fuels, as the use of forest fuels in modern boilers eliminates methane emissions from incomplete oxidation following open burning, landfilling or decomposing, which occurs in the absence of a higher and better use for the material.

"This letter from top scientists across the country is a great victory for the biomass industry and the 14,000 men and women in this country who are employed by the industry," said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. "It vindicates our position that biomass is an essential renewable energy source for the nation."

About 30 Senate Democrats also signed a letter addressed to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calling for a renewable electricity standard in his energy bill, asking for a strong standard, not weakened by inclusion of nonrenewable energy sources. "We urge you to ensure that we give our country the opportunity to win the clean energy race by including a renewable electricity standard in energy legislation that is considered this summer," the letter reads. Reid did not include an RES in his bill.