Biomass: A Carbon Pollution Solution

Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves discusses U.S. President Barack Obama's Climate plan, and what it means for the biomass power industry.
By Bob Cleaves | November 22, 2013

In June, President Barack Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, a series of executive actions designed to reduce carbon pollution and slow down the adverse effects of climate change. 

In September, as a direct response to Obama’s call for climate change action, the U.S. EPA announced its first initiative to enact climate regulations. The agency plans to tackle carbon pollution, starting with the largest source of emissions: electricity producers. 

According to the EPA, power producers were responsible for 33 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and 60 percent of U.S. stationary source greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. Specifically, power plants using fossil fuels are the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions.   

The proposal includes two main elements. The first is the introduction of a uniform national standard for newly built power plants, aiming to preserve the current diverse mix of energy sources. The second element is a detailed plan to improve carbon emissions standards among existing power plants—a much more difficult prospect that will require close partnership with state environmental agencies, power plant operators, environmental groups and the public. 

The EPA’s proposal is good news for the biomass industry, because we provide a double benefit in the fight against carbon pollution. Not only does biomass displace the use of fossil fuel with a low-carbon source of energy, it also uses materials that would otherwise be discarded into landfills or open burned, allowing an additional round of carbon capture. 

Obama has set a deadline of June 1 for a proposed state-by-state set of standards for existing power plants, and a deadline of June 1, 2015, for final guidelines. To better understand stakeholder needs as the EPA approaches this difficult task, the agency is planning a listening tour for which it will travel from state to state to have discussions on best practices for carbon emissions reduction, and what existing plants need to meet tougher standards.

In late September, EPA released a framework for these discussions. The framework explicitly points to such solutions as “fuel switching or cofiring of lower-carbon fuel.” It poses questions ranging from, “What actions are states, utilities, and power plants taking today that reduce CO2 emissions from the electric power system?” to “Are there benefits for coordination among neighboring states in the development and submittal of state plans?” 

I strongly encourage all biomass power producers to contribute to this process. Through direct engagement with the EPA on its carbon reduction proposal, we can emphasize the many benefits we bring to the table, and ensure that the new rules encourage the use of biomass.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association