EPA to propose rule on biomass carbon neutrality this summer

By Erin Voegele | April 09, 2019

U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler recently informed federal lawmakers that the agency is working on a rulemaking that will define biomass as carbon neutral. A proposed rule is expected to be released this summer.

Wheeler announced the planned rulemaking during an April 2 hearing held by the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. The hearing was held to address the EPA’s fiscal year 2020 budget request.

During the hearing, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said the past several EPA appropriations bills have included language directing the agency to consult with the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Energy “to provide clarity on a rule that defines biomass as carbon neutral.”

Simpson referenced a policy statement issued by the EPA in April 2018 that states future regulatory actions will treat biomass from managed forests as carbon neutral when used for energy production at stationary sources, and asked Wheeler what “further steps the EPA has taken to follow the language included in the appropriations bills.” 

“We are working on that,” Wheeler said. “We hope to have a proposal out this summer. It’s a little more difficult than we originally anticipated. It’s taking some time, but we are moving forward with that.”

Wheeler’s statement follows recent news that the U.S. EPA’s Science Advisory Board has completed its review of the agency’s 2014 Framework for Assessing Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources.

In late March, a letter authored by SAB Chair Michael Honeycutt and address to Wheeler was posted to the agency’s biogenic carbon framework webpage. That letter, dated March 5, discusses the panel’s review of the 2014 biogenic carbon framework.

According to the letter, the purpose of the 2014 framework was to develop a method for calculating the adjustment, or biogenic assessment factor (BAF), for CO2 emissions associated with the combustion of biogenic feedstocks at stationary facilities by accounting for the biological carbon cycle effects associated with the growth, harvest, and processing of those feedstocks.

The letter criticizes the 2014 framework for failing to provide regulatory context, specific BAF calculations for that context, or the implementation details that SAB previously requested.

“The 2014 framework lacks specificity and is written in a way that is too generic with too many possibilities that would require assessment of different underlying science,” Honeycutt wrote. “Rather than offering a lengthy menu of calculating options, the EPA framework needs to define its scenarios and justify those choices. This would enable the SAB to evaluate the science underpinning those decisions and justifications.”

EPA spokesman Kenneth Labbe confirmed to Biomass Magazine that the SAB has completed its review of the 2014 framework and submitted its final recommendations to the EPA administrator.

“The EPA appreciates the hard work and dedication of the Biogenic Carbon Emissions Panel and the Chartered SAB, and thanks them for their recommendations supporting EPA’s technical work on this important topic,” he said in an emailed statement. “As EPA considers the SAB’s final recommendations, we will do so in light of the FY2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the Agency’s April 2018 statement regarding the treatment of biogenic CO2 emissions from the use of biomass from managed forests, as well as the November 2018 interagency letter to Congress from EPA, USDA, and DOE which describes the agencies’ work to ensure consistent federal policy on biomass energy.”

A recording of the April 2 hearing is available on the House Committee on Appropriations website. The discussion on biogenic carbon rule occurs near the 1:47:00 mark.