Only in the la la land of biomass energy would burning trees be considered pollution control. But that’s where renewable energy policy is headed if the industry has its way.
One of the worst and least appreciated aspects of EPA’s temporary cave-in to industry is that states can allow coal plants to burn trees as a portion of their fuel and count that portion as zero carbon emissions and as progress toward meeting state renewable energy goals.
Bob Cleaves, President and CEO of the Biomass Power Association, interprets the EPA’s deferral this way:
Although the proposed rule defers a final decision for three years while the EPA studies the science of biomass carbon emissions, the agency is recommending that states recognize biomass, in the meantime, as a Best Available Control Technology.
The fact that the EPA would encourage states to treat biomass in a similar fashion to other renewable energy sources before the results of its study are available—before, in fact, the study had even begun—indicates that EPA is starting to get the degree to which the nation relies on biomass as a reliable, job-providing, clean energy source.
EPA didn’t exactly recommend that states burn trees as state-of-the-art pollution control, but the deferral does allow states to use prior EPA guidance to justify doing exactly that. And many states, including, Ohio, the number three coal burner in the nation (behind Texas and Florida) are off to the tree burning races, approving nearly 2000 MW of biomass generation in coal fired power plants across the state.
Coal burning utilities need this relief valve, because, as we all know, there is no way to reduce carbon emissions from coal combustion short of burning less coal. Thanks to EPA and the Biomass Power Association, utilities can do that by substituting trees for coal in a portion of their fuel stream and pretend that they reduced carbon emissions, when in fact they increased them.
Cleaves is happy that the EPA is giving biomass a free pass on carbon emissions. But for EPA to draw conclusions about the carbon emissions of biomass before it’s even studied the problem, concluding that biomass can be a pollution “control” strategy at coal plants, is bad science. Burning trees instead of coal is a fake pollution control technology, which is why the Agency should regulate biogenic carbon emissions now.
The biomass power industry shouldn't be allowed to hide behind coal’s wide skirt. EPA should set the interests of coal aside and make it clear that biomass is not at all like other true renewable energy sources.