EPA to defer GHG permitting requirements for biomass use
The U.S. EPA is announcing its plan to defer, for three years, greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting requirements for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources. The agency intends to use this time to seek further independent scientific analysis of this complex issue and then to develop a rulemaking 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 P. Jackson. “Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack commended the EPA for its decision, echoing Jackson’s sentiment that renewable energy from wood, switchgrass and other sources should be utilized. “EPA’s action will provide the agency with the time it needs to ensure that GHG policies properly account for the emissions and carbon sequestration associated with biomass,” he said. “In many cases, energy produced from biomass will provide significant reductions of GHGs relative to fossil fuels. The 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.”
“With EPA's commitment to defer regulation of greenhouse gases from biomass combustion in federal air quality permitting programs for at least three years, larger new and existing biomass combustion projects will avoid significant portions of those programs,” said Brian Patterson, associate and senior consultant with Golder Associates Inc. “In most cases, this will reduce the capital and operating costs of these projects. However, state-specific permitting programs will also play a role in the ultimate project air quality requirements.”
By July 2011, EPA plans to complete a rulemaking that will defer permitting requirements for CO2 emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources for three years. During the three-year period, the agency will seek input on critical scientific issues from its partners within the federal government and from outside scientists who have relevant expertise. EPA will also further 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 agency will also issue guidance shortly that will provide a basis that state or local permitting authorities may use to conclude that the use of biomass as fuel is the best available control technology for GHG emissions until the agency can complete action on the three-year deferral in July.
In a separate but related letter, EPA is notifying the National Alliance of Forest Owners that it will grant its petition to reconsider the portion of the May 2010 tailoring rule that addresses the same issue.
CO2 emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources are 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, 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 industries 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, cost-effective technology to reduce their GHG emissions. This includes the nation's largest GHG emitters, such as power plants and refineries. Emissions from small sources, such as farms and restaurants, are not covered by these GHG permitting requirements.
More information: http://www.epa.gov/nsr