Testifying last week at the EPA’s hearing on the proposed biomass industry exemption from Clean Air Act carbon mitigation regulations, National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) CEO, Dave Tenny, spilled the beans on the industry’s strategy to avoid all current and future rules limiting carbon emissions from biomass energy.
The core of Tenny’s evasion strategy is to steer the discussion of biomass carbon regulation into a grand pseudoscientific quagmire. Once we are all camped out in the Great Dismal Swamp of biomass carbon accounting, the goal will be to monitor changes in the endless global carbon cycle with no beginning, no end, and no boundaries.
Or as Tenny puts it, “EPA policy must recognize the prevailing scientific conclusion that the forest carbon cycle is continuous and has no “beginning.” And, “EPA policy must avoid arbitrarily declaring a “beginning” to the carbon cycle…..” Or, yet again, “Proposals to limit the accounting of forest carbon flux to confined areas and timeframes are arbitrary on their face.” And last but not least, “EPA must avoid establishing arbitrary baselines, such as “business as usual,” to account for carbon emissions from biomass energy.”
Talk about Alice in Wonderland. But Tenny knows what he’s up to because as soon as you bring biomass carbon accounting into the real world where real people make real choices in real time about real behaviors that effect real lives, real economies, and real environments, biomass looks like a big-time carbon polluter.
These same attempts to confuse the issue were effectively dispatched by the authors of the Manomet study over a year ago.
Yet it is clear that Tenny and other biomass proponents will continue to insist that Manomet and similar analyses showing biomass carbon emissions exceed those from coal for at least forty years are too narrow. The only credible way for EPA to understand the carbon impacts of biomass burning, they say, will be to examine the continuous and never ending process of carbon cycling over the entire earth. This is a very convenient construct. It sounds so scientific. After all, as long as there is no beginning and no end and no boundaries to the carbon cycle analysis, things work out just fine.
But in the real world there is a beginning and an end. The beginning is today, and the end is 30 to 50 years from now when the earth’s climate will be disrupted beyond recognition if we do not act responsibly now. Any form of energy production that adds carbon to the atmosphere during that time fame, like wood burning biomass for example, must be a priority target for serious emissions controls.
The biomass industry needs to step up, get real and stop deliberately confusing the carbon accounting issue with flimsy theoretical arguments. Only then we can have an honest conversation about the carbon impacts of biomass power.