EPA is justifying deferring regulation of CO2 from biomass power plants by saying first that emissions are so small that they don’t need to be regulated, and second, that the agency needs three years to study the problem because they have no idea how big emissions really are.
Too small to worry about, or we have no idea. Which is it? It’s neither.
Current carbon emissions from biomass energy are anything but small. Our calculations, derived from EIA data on fuel consumption show 87 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2009 from existing biomass burning plants. That’s as much as the total power sector carbon emissions from eleven states combined: RI, SD, DE, AK, ME, NH, CT, HI, OR, WA, and NJ.
In fact, carbon emissions from the biomass power sector are substantial and easy to calculate. That would have been a good place for EPA to start, because according to Dave Tenney of the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), the industry expects to grow fourfold over the next decade spurred on by the three-year deferral alone.
If Tenney is right, the effect of EPA’s deferral will be disastrous. By putting off regulation of biomass carbon, EPA is greenlighting new facilities that will emit 350 million tons of unregulated CO2 a year, equivalent to 2010 emissions from all the coal fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. That’s pollution worthy of regulation even by EPA standards.
Emissions numbers for biomass electricity generators aren’t hard to find or figure, and the industry has made its plan for growth quite clear. Big biomass industry players like Duke Energy even told the North Carolina Utilities Commission why the sources of waste wood EPA thinks they’ll use as fuel just won’t be enough – which is why they’re going to be using whole trees for co-firing “carbon free” biomass in their coal plants.
But burning whole trees for power is about the most carbon-unfriendly thing you can do. It doesn’t take a PhD in atmospheric science to understand that liquidating standing forests isn’t going to help with climate change.
It’s hard to figure why EPA is so systematically ignoring all these data. Clearly this isn’t about the science. The answer is buried under political calculations that are well above our pay grade. Yet there’s a point where fact-dodging, even in the compromising world of federal rulemakings, doesn’t pass the straight-face test. We’re long past that point with biomass energy.
Tell the EPA that if they’re going to study biomass carbon emissions, they need to regulate the biomass industry in the meantime. It’s only common sense.
Comments are due Thursday, May 5, 2011.
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