Groups in Shadow of Biomass Power Plants Request EPA Relief

Environmental Groups in 23 States Decry Unregulated Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Excessive Air Pollution From Biomass Power Plants

Pelham, MA – Environmental groups in 23 states today requested that the Environmental Protection Agency end its three year exemption of biomass power plant greenhouse gas emissions from Clean Air Act permitting –  an exemption that also enables biomass plant builders and operators to avoid using the best pollution controls for the smokestack emissions that cause local air pollution and harm human health.

Signers to the letter requesting EPA action included groups in AK, AR, AZ, CA, DE, FL, GA, HI, IN, MA, MD, MO, MT, NC, NY, OH, PA, TN, VA, VT, WA, WI, and WV.

Wood-burning power plants emit as much or more “conventional” pollution as coal and gas plants, including particulate matter, nitrous oxides, and carbon monoxide.  A BACT (Best Available Control Technology) analysis under the Clean Air Act would reduce emissions of these pollutants, but the EPA loophole that exempts biomass carbon dioxide (CO2) from regulation under the Clean Air Act means that bioenergy facilities also escape federal regulation of other air pollution, as well. The result has been a surge in biomass power plant proposals that are allowed to emit twice the pollution that they would be if they were held to stricter federal standards.

“The City of Lithonia, Georgia is severely impacted by various high polluting facilities such as landfills and a transfer station,” said Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson, echoing the concern of many citizens located “downwind” from biomass power plants.  “The addition of a poorly regulated biomass facility will add to the health burden in a community that already suffers from high rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.”

The letter comes at an important moment, as the EPA is working to create a science-based carbon dioxide accounting scheme for biomass facilities. The agency’s own Science Advisory Board (SAB) has stated that biomass energy can not automatically be considered “carbon neutral.” The DC Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that EPA’s exemption of biomass energy from regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act was not justified, but the agency has not yet reversed the exemption.

Burning biomass emits more climate warming carbon dioxide emissions at the smokestack than fossil fuels, including coal.  Both the court and the SAB concluded that CO2 from bioenergy facilities warms the climate just as CO2 from burning fossil fuels does, and that bioenergy facilities should not escape regulation.

To read the full letter, click here.

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