BPA, BIO comment on EPA's treatment of biogenic emissions in rule

By Erin Voegele | May 19, 2014

The Biomass Power Association and Biotechnology Industry Organization are among the more than 1.24 million groups and individuals that provided public comments on the U.S. EPA’s proposed rule to establish a greenhouse gas performance standards for new stationary electric utility generating units. While the rule generally does not target biomass-fired facilities, it does address biogenic carbon emissions.

The proposed rule was originally published in the Federal Register on Jan. 8. According to the information released by the EPA, the new proposed rule replaces a similar proposed rule that was published by the agency in April 2013. More than 2.5 million comments were received on that proposal. As a result, the EPA determined that revisions in its proposed approach were warranted.

Within the proposal, the EPA explains that an electrical generating unit that primarily fires biomass would not be subject the carbon dioxide emission standards, and that such units could fire fossil fuels up to 10 percent on a three-year average annual heat input basis without becoming subject to the standards.

With regard to biogenic emissions, the proposal notes that issues related to accounting for biogenic carbon dioxide emissions from stationary sources are currently being evaluated by EPA through its development of an Accounting Framework for Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources. In general, the proposal notes that the overall net atmospheric loading of carbon dioxide resulting from the use of a biogenic feedstock by a stationary source will ultimately depend on the stationary source process and the type of feedstock used, as well as the conditions under which that feedstock is grown and harvested.

Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association, has weighed in on the proposal. In his comment, Cleaves discussed the implications of the EPA’s proposed 10 percent co-firing threshold.  “The proposed definition of ‘affected facility’ is a facility that ‘combusts fossil fuel for more than 10.0 percent of the heat input during any three consecutive calendar years,’” he wrote. “In other words, regardless of the carbon benefits of a particular biogenic fuel, any co-firing when a fossil fuel exceeds 10 percent would trigger regulation of GHG emissions for the entire facility…EPA cannot set what is clearly an arbitrary threshold until the Agency completes a rulemaking on the GHG accounting of biogenic emissions. To do so would ignore the very rulemaking on biogenic emissions that is now pending.”

Summing up his comments, Cleaves wrote that the EPA cannot defer regulations of biogenic emissions under the Tailoring Rule because of the necessity to study the science, while at the same time adopt a separate regulation that draws an arbitrary limit on how much fossil fuel can be used at an affected facility under new source performance standards. “We urge EPA to first complete the biogenic deferral rule and only then adopt a co-firing standard under New Source Performance Standards,” Cleaves

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, also commented on the proposed rule’s treatment of biogenic emissions. According to Erickson, electric utility generating units firing biomass, regardless of percentage, should not be subject to the proposed standards. He also noted that beneficial reuse of carbon dioxide should be incorporated as a viable compliance option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Industrial biotechnology can be utilized to produce sustainable alternatives to extractive fossil-based fuels, products and materials through the conversion of waste CO2 to renewable chemicals, materials, and fuels,” Erickson wrote. “Including multiple options to capture, store and utilize the CO2 emissions from new power plants will further incentivize the development of innovative technologies to mitigate CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases.”

In his comments, Erickson also stressed that the assertion that biogenic carbon dioxide emissions are equivalent to those of fossil fuels is unwarranted. Rather, biogenic carbon should be treated as carbon neutral, he wrote. Erickson also cautioned against excessive emphasis on underground injection and geologic sequestration as approaches to be achieve carbon dioxide performance standards. He called that approach shortsighted and noted it would limit the amount of carbon dioxide that could be sequestered, reused or recycled by other means. “Excluding CO2 utilization would directly impact hose looking to invest in the U.S. manufacturing base and limit the development of those innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he wrote.

Additional comments and a copy of the proposed rule can be downloaded from Regulations.gov under Docket ID EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0495