MACT Rules Threaten to Derail Biomass Industry

By Bob Cleaves | June 22, 2011

As the biomass power industry struggles to recover from one of the worst economic downturns in our history, we now face another threat: a series of proposed U.S. EPA rules that endanger the continued viability of our plants and jeopardize thousands of well-paying jobs in rural America. On the minds of biomass owners, operators and developers of new biomass plants these days is boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology and related solid waste rules, proposed EPA regulations that could seriously raise costs for biomass facilities that plan to use available biomass fuels other than traditional wood waste materials.

If ever there was a case for congressional intervention, this is it. Mired in litigation for years, EPA promulgated draft rules in 2010 which, by the agency’s own admission, were based on fundamental misunderstandings about boiler technology and the benefits of various biomass fuels. Instead of going “back to the drawing board” to find a better, science-based solution, EPA was forced by the court to finalize the rules under an unreasonably short timeline.

In a partial win for the biomass industry, the EPA agreed on May 15 to stay the so-called “boiler and commercial industrial solid waste incinerator (CISWI) MACT.” However, the EPA stay remains problematic for two reasons: First, the stay does not affect the solid waste rule, which wrongly classifies millions of tons of valuable biomass as “waste” and subjects our facilities to overly cumbersome and needless regulations. Second, the EPA stay is at risk of legal challenges from environmental organizations. If successful, these challenges could force the private sector to comply, even if EPA believes—as the agency does—that the regulations need more work.

Neither scenario bodes well for the industry, but what is truly unfortunate about boiler MACT and related rules is that—although the EPA seems to be trying to do the right thing by biomass—these rules stand to have a serious impact on our industry with little gain for the environment.

If the EPA’s rules are allowed to proceed unchanged, they will result in what many experts estimate will be billions of dollars in needless changes to industrial facilities. Many existing biomass plants will simply shut down, adding to the growing number of facilities unable to compete with fossil fuel power. New facilities will be placed on hold, chilling renewable energy investment in areas of the nation in dire need of such investment. And, at a time when the nation is promoting the use of domestically sourced renewable energy like biomass, many biomass fuels would be landfilled, contributing to the clutter and emitting dangerous gases like methane.

The biomass industry needs Congress to intervene now in order to prevent costly regulations that have no public health or environmental benefit. We urge Congress to enact legislation that delays implementation of the rules for at least two years, which is the time believed necessary for EPA to properly consider all of the information necessary to adopt common sense rules. We also urge Congress to require any rule to be based on available technology and to propose standards that are actually achievable at a reasonable cost, and to facilitate—not hinder—the use of a wide variety of biomass fuels.

We need Congress to act as soon as possible to ensure that the boiler MACT and related rules that are enacted will be responsible and won’t hinder the growth of our industry. Please contact your member of Congress by phone, email or snail mail—or all three—to emphasize the importance of acting now to save renewable energy and jobs in your area.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association