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Lawsuit challenges EPA's Tailoring Rule biomass deferment

By Lisa Gibson | August 16, 2011

A lawsuit filed recently by a number of conservation groups challenges the U.S. EPA’s three-year deferral of biogenic emissions under the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule. The agency has said it will use that three-year period to further study and understand the science behind emissions from sources such as woody biomass when they are used to create energy.

The groups that filed suit—Georgia ForestWatch, Wild Virginia, the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation and the Natural Resources Council of Maine—argue that increased demand for wood fuel from existing and proposed biomass power plants could exceed the supply of available wood waste, leading to the cutting of standing trees. The groups also cite concerns about the more rapid release of carbon from burned wood versus decomposed.

“This is an important issue for the (biomass power) industry,” said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. “As the association that represents the biomass-to-electricity sector across the country, our industry is deeply concerned about the challenge to the regulation promulgated by EPA, which we think was appropriate and responsible, that gives EPA the science that it needs to make the right regulatory decision.” The litigation filed by the conservation groups is a threat to the biomass industry, he added.

“Like the BPA, we are very disappointed to see yet another effort to use litigation to contravene in a process which we support,” said Dave Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. NAFO supports the scientific review EPA is conducting and will intervene in the litigation to defend EPA’s position and process, he said.

American Forest & Paper Association President and CEO Donna Harman also weighed in on the litigation, saying the treatment of biomass emissions like fossil fuel emissions threatens beneficial investments in biomass energy upgrades at paper and wood products mills throughout the country. On average, paper and wood products mills generate two-thirds of their energy from biomass, she added.

In fact, the U.S. has been using timber from its forests for a variety of uses, including renewable energy, for the past 60 years, Tenny said, removing a total of around 847 billion cubic feet. “Not withstanding that use and because of that use, today, our forests have 50 percent more carbon in them than they did 60 years ago.” That suggests a direct positive correlation between using forests for societal needs and the forests’ ability to capture and store carbon, he said.

Currently, biomass comprises 50 percent of the country’s renewable portfolio. “Because biomass has been such a successful part of our renewable energy portfolio, it’s not surprising that the U.S. would want to seek a policy that continues to build on that success,” Tenny said.