Biomass industry triumphs in EPA's biogenic emissions framework

By Anna Simet | November 19, 2014

The U.S. EPA has never before made such a clear and emphatic endorsement of biomass, commented Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves on release of the agency’s updated biogenic emissions framework.

At least not for the 15 years that BPA has been in existence, according to Cleaves. The framework comes nearly four years after EPA’s initial assessment of biogenic emissions in the Tailoring Rule, which, back in 2010, set forth to regulate carbon emissions and did not exclude biomass. A result of a three-year study and convening a science advisory board to further study the issue, Cleaves said the framework appears to be far more exhaustive and more complex than original framework that EPA put out.

 While the association is still studying the document, he said BPA is encouraged by what it is seeing. “Essentially, what EPA is doing is putting forth methodology on how to measure biogenic emissions, and importantly—which BPA has agreed with—it says that all biomass is not carbon neutral. You have to look at specific feedstocks and apply a methodology that we think EPA is now doing in this second framework.”

Cleaves said EPA is describing waste-derived materials and forest-derived materials as having “minimal or having no net atmospheric contribution of biogenic CO2 emissions,” and called the declaration “a very positive and very clear statement. It’s really important to our association, because our members use materials that have no higher value…our material is by and large forest residues and materials that would be left to decay on the forest floor.”

The EPA’s statements are important not only in advancing the ball of the [Tailoring Rule] process that began four years ago, but it also has weight in context of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. “EPA is making a very clear statement that in implementing strategies to comply with the Clean Power Plan, biomass can play a key role.”

Cleaves highlighted a memo EPA Acting Administrator Janet McCabe issued to Regional Air Division Directors that describes the EPA’s current stance on biogenic CO2 emissions in the context of the Clean Power Plan and Prevention of Significant Deterioration Program, pointing out that the EPA is planning provisions to the PSD rules to exempt biomass from Best Achievable Control Technology requirements for greenhouse gas emissions from waste-derived and non-waste biogenic feedstocks derived from sustainable forest and ag practices.

However, EPA has appeared to have left for another day the question of what it means to be sustainable. “But I think we know what it means because our members do it every day,” he said.  “As much as we’ve read so far, EPA is deferring to states to determine sustainability definitions, but we are still reviewing the framework for further understanding on the matter.”

Cleaves added that one can get into the weeds as to what today’s announcement means for the Clean Power plan and PSD permitting, but fundamentally, the framework says that biomass is a good thing.