Friday, July 08, 2011

Obama's EPA Kicks Biomass Can Down the Road

As a conservationist and public health advocate, one of the things I despised most about the George W. Bush Administration's strategy while in office was the release of key, anti-environmental regulations on Friday afternoons, just before a long holiday weekend.  And certainly, with the new Administration, that would "change," right? Right?

Turns out the answer is "No."

On Friday, July 1st, as reported in the New York Times online on July 5th, the U.S. EPA published a final plan (pdf) that will give biomass a three-year, get-out-of-jail-free-card, while the agency studies the effect of plant emissions on climate change. Over those three years, industrial plants that burn woody biomass will not need permits before starting construction and will not need Title V operating permits.  The forest products industry, including pulp and paper, is the largest user of biomass energy in the United States, almost entirely derived from wood from forests.

The final plan (pdf) released Friday by U.S. EPA will give biomass a three-year pass while the agency studies the effect of plant emissions on climate change. During that time, industrial plants that burn woody biomass and landfills that release the greenhouse gases from decomposing biomass won't need permits before starting construction and won't need Title V operating permits.

When the EPA was contacted today to register concern and propose solutions to the fact that organizations and individual citizens that provided unique comments on the proposed rule were not notified of the publication of the final rule, the response was that we all should have "checked the (EPA) website" more often.

Fortunately for our forests, the news was not completely buried. The NYTimes/Greenwire article informed the public that, "biomass-burning facilities will be spared from new federal curbs on gases that help cause climate change."

The federal register notice announcing the final rule can be read here.   It comes on the heels of a provocative new report released by the Biomass Accountability Project called, "Biomass Electricity:  Clean Energy Subsidies for a Dirty Industry."  The EPA has just helped ensure that these subsidies continue for the next three years without restraint, and that the projects which these subsidies develop will be polluters grandfathered into the future rules regulating these emissions from biomass energy.

The EPA's responses to public comments can be found here. (PDF)  What do readers think?  Are you satisfied with the EPA's responses?  

To be sure, there's been several rules announced this week that will be effective in reducing pollution from coal, and the EPA is to be commended for that.  They are based in science and will greatly improve public health, most certainly in the city where I live.  But the fight over diminishing our forests for fuel and dispelling the damaging carbon-neutral myth is not nearly done.  Stay tuned.

No comments: