Groups Urge Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to Count Biomass Carbon Pollution

Analysis reveals wood-burning power plants may undermine action on climate

A coalition of groups today urged the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the Northeast’s carbon cap and trade program, to assess how carbon pollution from wood-burning power plants may undermine the program’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

RGGI requires fossil-fueled power plants to purchase allowances for the carbon dioxide they emit, with the total amount of emissions projected to decrease over time under a declining emissions cap.  However, an analysis by some of the signatories to the letter reveals that because the RGGI program does not count emissions from wood-burning power plants, actual carbon emissions in 2023 could exceed RGGI’s estimates by more than 40 percent, due to carbon pollution from existing and new wood-burning plants projected to be built in the Northeast.  A separate analysis of energy development at the federal level similarly found that treating biomass as if it has zero carbon emissions can incentivize construction of wood-burning power plants, which in turn displace solar energy and further increases carbon pollution.

“Wood-burning power plants emit more carbon pollution per megawatt-hour than coal, but RGGI excludes these emissions” said Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity. “RGGI should assess whether millions of tons of uncounted carbon pollution from wood-burning power plants undercut efforts on climate and whether bioenergy is displacing development of truly clean, zero-carbon energy like solar power.”

“There are no shortcuts and no free lunches when it comes to tackling climate change,” said Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel at the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force. “We can’t resort to accounting gimmicks, like pretending that biomass-based power plants do not emit CO2. Instead, we need commitment and innovation, both of which are readily found in RGGI states.”
RGGI is currently undergoing a 2016 Program Review to gather stakeholder input. The full RGGI analysis can be found here
The group sign-on letter can be found here Groups signing on to the letter include:
Acadia Center
Arise for Social Justice in Springfield
Appalachian Mountain Club
Center for Biological Diversity
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Clean Air Task Force
Conservation Law Foundation
Environmental League of Massachusetts
Natural Resources Council of Maine
Physicians For Social Responsibility
Partnership For Policy Integrity
Sierra Club
Springfield Climate Justice Coalition
Toxics Action Center


Partnership for Policy Integrity