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EPA defers greenhouse-gas rules on burning biomass as fuel

Biomass The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  announced it will defer greenhouse-gas permitting requirements for emissions from industries' burning of biomass -- plant materials and animal waste that are used as fuel.

Announced Wednesday, the EPA says the three-year deferral will allow the agency to research the environmental impact of burning biomass for fuel and to develop rules on whether emissions from such sources would require permitting under the Clean Air Act.  

The nation's first greenhouse-gas permit requirements, established under the Clean Air Act, took effect Jan. 2. Under the rules, the largest greenhouse-gas emitters, such as power plants and refineries, are required to obtain permits for new or modified sources of greenhouse-gas emissions and to implement the best available control technologies. Burning biomass may be considered an implementation of a best available control technology.

“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy.  In the coming years we will develop a common-sense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy,” EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement released Wednesday.  “Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”

The EPA says it is seeking scientific input from other federal government agencies, as well as outside scientists; it will also consider the 7,000-plus comments it received after issuing a call for information last year. That call included comments that burning some types of biomass for fuel emits the same carbon-dioxide emissions as not burning it, while other types may emit more.

The EPA's deferral affects facilities that emit carbon dioxide from burning forest or agricultural products for energy, as well as wastewater treatment and livestock management facilities, landfills and fermentation processes for ethanol production.

The EPA's biomass deferral was championed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.“America’s forest owners, farmers and ranchers can play a crucial role in providing renewable energy from wood, switchgrass and other agricultural products.  Homegrown energy can provide jobs in rural America while reducing greenhouse gases," Vilsack said in a statement released shortly after the EPA announcement.  "Markets for woody biomass in particular can be especially important in allowing the U.S. Forest Service and other landowners to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire while restoring more natural conditions in our forests."

The response of the Natural Resources Defense Council, however, was mixed."The good news here is that the EPA has made clear not all biomass has the same carbon footprint, but we can't afford to wait three years to make sure our forests aren't being plowed under and more, not less, carbon pollution dumped in the air," said Franz A. Matzner, legislative director of the NRDC's climate center. [Updated 1-12-11, 2:55 p.m.: The original version of this post did not include a statement from the NRDC.]

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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I recently came across your blog and have been reading your post and it is a very great post with many good points to be noted. Thank you for sharing very good post. I enjoyed it. I have read one article Types Of Biomass at What do you think?

A very unbias article you wrote there mate. When compared to the fossil fuels that are being used today, biomass shows the greatest potential for providing a replacement. There are still some issues that must be overcome before changing completely over to biomass fuels as an alternative fuel system, but changes are being made in the way power plants and engines are built that make it easier to accommodate biomass fuels. I have read more about Biomass and Alternative Fuel Systems at What do you think about biomass and alternative fuel systems?

Save the deserts is right! Big Solar is better suited to fallowed farmland that is closer to existing power transmission lines, while not destroying thousands of acres of unspoiled desert wilderness!
I hope the Greenhouse gasses regulations are the only deferred EPA "best available control technology" for new trash burning (RDF), or farm and wood mill wastes (biofuels).
New industrial sources such as power plants, refineries, industrial plants, plating, painting,etc, all are currently required to implement the" best available control technology" to reduce their emmittions of particulates, NOx, sulfur, CO, and other noxious industrial and power plant smoke stack emmissions, this is strictly regulated in new sources approved in California now, with good results in air quality for us all. CO2 from plants burning coal and RDF/Biomass fuels, is currently much more than plants burning natural gas fuel. I hope good CO2 capture and serious reduction of all our CO2 emmissions happens fast, "best available control technologies" regulations work. Use em!

If the NRDC is so worried about increasing carbon emissions, why aren't they fighting against the industrialization of wilderness by Big Solar, when all the solar power we need could easily and affordably be produced in the built environment. Plenty of research shows that GHG emissions are ENORMOUS from siting Big Solar in remote, Carbon-sequestering deserts (which are completely killed by it) with long transmission lines, but they conveniently ignore that so they can cash their "greenwashing" checks... Sorry, no credibility.


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