Pruitt commits to creating regulatory certainty for biomass

By Erin Voegele | February 14, 2018

On Feb. 13, U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with members of the  forest products industry and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to discuss a range of environmental issues. Pruitt also provided Sununu with a letter announcing EPA’s efforts to work towards a carbon-neutral policy for biomass and clarify federal procurement recommendations for responsibly managed forests.

“For years, the federal government rendered most U.S. forestry producers ineligible for federal procurement projects and created confusion around biomass carbon neutrality,” Pruitt said. “Understanding the importance of the forest products industry to the State of New Hampshire, EPA is focused on clarifying regulations that were encumbering the industry.”

According to information released by the EPA, Pruitt’s visit and letter are related to Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” signed by President Donald Trump in February 2017. In April 2017, in accordance with the requirements of that executive order, the EPA sought comment on regulatory barriers that should be targeted for repeal, replacement or modification. The agency received more than 60,000 comments, including many from the forest and forest products community that highlighted concerns over the EPA’s past regulatory treatment of the industry. Top concerns included whether EPA had failed to take proper account of the reality that energy derived from biomass may, in appropriate circumstances, be recognized as carbon neutral, and the EPA’s own procurement recommendations for wood and lumber products.

A press release issued by the EPA explains that the agency submitted its Draft Accounting Framework for Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources to the Scientific Advisory Board in 2011. The draft accounting framework aims to identify and outline the scientific and technical considerations that come into play in ascertaining the extent to which the production, processing and use of biomass materials at stationary sources is carbon neutral. The accounting framework was updated in 2014. However, after seven years of ongoing review and analysis, the SAB has yet to reach a consensus. The SAB most recently addressed the framework during its August 2017 meeting. In his letter to Sununu, Pruitt said the SAB process is continuing.

Meanwhile, the EPA said it received direction for the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, which urges agencies to proactively recognize forest biomass as a renewable energy source and establish policies that reflect its carbon neutrality. That legislation, which occurred in conjunction with Executive Order 13783, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” spurred a multi-agency effort between EPA, the U.S. Department of energy and The USDA to establish a mechanism for federal cooperation and consistency on the use of biomass.

For its part, EPA said it has incorporated a concerted effort into its review of, and improvement to, Clean Air Act permitting programs to develop a range of options consistent with carbon-neutral policy from biomass from forest and other lands and sectors. EPA also said it is developing actions to clarify its own federal procurement recommendations, which as originally drafted in 2015, recognized only a single forest certification standard as qualifying for federal procurement opportunities. This made many responsibly managed forests, including those certified by the Sustainable Forest Initiative and American Tree Farm System, ineligible to participate.

“As you and I both recognize, continuing to be responsible stewards of our nation’s forests and lands while utilizing all domestic forms of biomass to meet our energy needs are mutually compatible goals,” Pruitt wrote in his letter to Sununu. “By further incorporating these sources into an ‘all of the above’ energy portfolio, the agency will expand the economic potential of our nation’s forests, while at the same time ensuring states like New Hampshire are able to determine the best energy sources to meet their local economic and environmental needs. I look forward to continuing to work with you and the broad range of interested stakeholders to provide clarity and incorporate consistent treatment of biomass throughout the range of EPA’s regulatory programs.”

The Biomass Power Association has spoken out to express gratitude for Pruitt’s commitment to regulatory certainty for biomass he articulated in the letter.

“The biomass industry greatly appreciates Administrator Pruitt’s strong commitment to create regulatory certainty for biomass power producers and all contributors to the wood supply chain,” said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the BPA. “We enjoyed a productive meeting in New Hampshire with Administrator Pruitt and his team yesterday, and we are eager to work with them to implement sensible guidelines to determine the carbon impact from biogenic sources.”

“As the Administrator noted in his letter, America’s forests are a valuable resource—and biomass is a critical part of the supply chain,” Cleaves continued. “Biomass power producers deserve full recognition for the sustainable, clean energy they provide to the power grid as well as for the value they add to the larger forest products industry.”

In 2017, BPA released a study that measured the carbon impact of organic residues for electricity generation. The study examined the carbon intensity of a 50 MW biomass power plant in New Hampshire with a 43 MW output to the grid, comparing it to that of a typical combined cycle natural gas facility. The study found that the use of organic residues as fuel in a biomass power plant instead of natural gas in a combined cycle facility results immediate carbon savings of 115 percent, with a 98 percent carbon savings over 100 years.

A full copy of letter can be downloaded from the EPA website.