DOE clings to carbon neutral myth at Nippon Paper biomass plant

For all the federal money sloshing around in biomass industry bank accounts you’d think that at least some of these facilities would be subject to environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, affectionately known as NEPA. They certainly meet the minimal environmental impact criteria: A single biomass plant can burn more wood in a year than the entire commercial timber harvest of some states.
But in spite of these potentially massive impacts on forests, taxpayer largesse for biomass energy, such as that granted under the Recovery Act, is largely exempt from the requirements of NEPA. The Nippon paper mill in Port Angeles, Washington is an exception. The mill wants to put in a new 20 MW biomass boiler to replace an existing, smaller unit, and it triggers NEPA because DOE wants to give the project a $600,000 grant and a $1.4 million loan to though its State Energy Program.
An environmental assessment (EA) under NEPA should provide the opportunity for critical independent review of project impacts, like the fact that biomass burning at the Nippon plant would emit hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 per year. Yet this NEPA EA reads like an industry talking points memo, starting with pretending that the CO2 pumped up the stack when biomass is burned need not be accounted for at all! Also missing is any critical evaluation of facility fuel use, where it will get its wood, and whether there are enough forestry “residues” to run the plant.
We support the NEPA process, but it’s not a good use of taxpayer funds if it’s simply going to lift whole paragraphs from the developer’s own documents as the DOE review did. The Nippon environmental impacts assessment relies on the flimsiest of hearsay that fails a basic test of logic. Stating “The increased use of biomass would not result in increased GHG emissions because biomass is considered a carbon-neutral fuel” doesn’t really make it so. Can DOE really be so unaware of recent science showing biomass power is one of the biggest carbon polluters of all?
Click here to see PFPI comments on the Nippon EA
Click here to see comments from the North Olympic chapter of the Sierra Club

Partnership for Policy Integrity