EPA: Biomass from managed forests is carbon neutral

By Erin Voegele | April 23, 2018

On April 23, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that in future regulatory actions biomass from managed forests will be treated as carbon neutral when used for energy production at stationary sources. The agency is also assessing options for incorporating non-forest biomass as carbon neutral into future actions.

“Today’s announcement grants America’s foresters much-needed certainty and clarity with respect to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass,” Pruitt said. “Managed forests improve air and water quality, while creating valuable jobs and thousands of products that improve our daily lives. This is environmental stewardship in action.” 

A memo released by the EPA confirms that biomass from managed forests can provide numerous environmental, energy and economic benefits. Specifically, the memo states that biomass use for energy can bolster domestic energy production, provide jobs to rural communities, and promote environmental stewardship by improving soil and water quality, reducing wildfire risk, and helping to ensure forests continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

The memo specifies that the EPA’s ongoing work under the Renewable Fuel Standard and Title II will not be impacted by this new policy and will continue to be governed by the existing regulatory and statutory process and requirements already in place. The memo also indicates this statement of agency policy is not a scientific determination and does not revise or amend any scientific determinations that EPA has previously made.

The biomass policy announcement follows a Feb. 13 letter that Pruitt send to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu that announced EPA’s efforts to work towards a carbon-neutral policy for biomass and clarify federal procurement recommendations for responsibly managed forests. 

The American Wood Council is applauding EPA’s announcement. “Our industry has been asking for this clarification since 2010. For years, worldwide climate change and renewable energy policies acknowledged that all sustainably-managed biomass energy was ‘carbon neutral,’” said Robert Glowinski, president and CEO of the AWC. “We thank EPA for clearing up ambiguous policies with which the industry has been trying to comply. AWC looks forward to working with EPA as these policies are implemented.

“The wood products industry strives to be as energy efficient as possible and is one of the leaders nationwide in the use of carbon-neutral biomass energy,” Glowinski continued. “On average, over 75 percent of the energy at our member companies’ wood products facilities is generated from biomass. Our industry’s use of biomass energy displaces the need for fossil fuels and helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.”

The Biomass Power Association has also spoken out to thank the EPA. “We are greatly pleased at Administrator Pruitt’s announcement that the EPA will treat biomass power as carbon neutral,” said Carrie Annand, executive director of the BPA. “Despite the abundant scientific evidence of the carbon benefits of using biomass fuel to generate power, our industry has experienced regulatory uncertainty for several years. In recognizing the carbon benefits of biomass and its role in healthy forest management, the federal government joins every state with a Renewable Portfolio Standard, as well as many foreign governments that use biomass to reduce carbon emissions. We thank the Administrator and EPA staffers for their work on this important issue.”

Additional information is available on the EPA’s website