EPA officially proposes deferment, opens comment period

By Lisa Gibson | March 15, 2011

Following through on its promise made in January, the U.S. EPA has officially released its proposal to defer for three years the Tailoring Rule permitting requirements for carbon dioxide emissions from biogenic sources, including biomass.

The agency said the additional time will allow it to conduct a detailed analysis to determine how biogenic emissions should be treated under the agency’s air permitting program. EPA will seek advice from a number of experts including federal partners, states, scientists, and industry stakeholders. A 45-day comment period will open once the proposal is published to the federal register. Sources included in the proposal are those facilities that emit carbon dioxide from burning forest or agricultural products for energy, wastewater treatment, landfills and fermentation processes for ethanol production.

Until the EPA takes final action on the deferral, permitting authorities can deem biomass fuel the best available control technology for carbon dioxide emissions from large sources, it said.

Beginning Jan. 2, the Clean Air Act required large plants and factories planning to make major modifications or those building new facilities to obtain pre-construction permits addressing their GHG emissions. Emissions from small sources, such as farms and restaurants, are not covered by these permitting requirements.

The EPA first announced its intention to defer permitting requirements for biogenic sources Jan. 12, causing a flurry of excitement in the biomass industry. “EPA’s action will provide the agency with the time it needs to ensure that GHG policies properly account for the emissions and carbon sequestration associated with biomass,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “In many cases, energy produced from biomass will provide significant reductions of GHGs relative to fossil fuels. The USDA looks forward to working with EPA in ensuring that this administration’s policies use the best science and spur innovation and job creation in the renewable energy sector.”

Brian Patterson, associate and senior consultant with Golder Associates Inc., also weighed in. “With EPA's commitment to defer regulation of greenhouse gases from biomass combustion in federal air quality permitting programs for at least three years, larger new and existing biomass combustion projects will avoid significant portions of those programs,” he said. “In most cases, this will reduce the capital and operating costs of these projects. However, state-specific permitting programs will also play a role in the ultimate project air quality requirements.”