The biomass energy industry desperately wants you to believe that burning trees and other wood for energy doesn’t increase atmospheric CO2. This is because this industry is hugely subsidy-dependent, reaping billions in taxpayer- and rate-payer funded subsidies and tax credits – support that would be threatened if policymakers knew just how polluting and bad for the planet bioenergy really is. Now, it seems like even the White House is waking up to the realities of this industry with a veto threat for an appropriations bill that would force EPA to treat bioenergy as carbon neutral.
There’s no question that when policymakers learn the reality about wood-burning power plants – that they emit more CO2 than coal plants; that they’re extremely polluting and often burn contaminated fuels; that they burn trees and other wood yet claim zero emissions - they tend to become disenchanted. For instance, in Massachusetts they took low-efficiency biopower out of the State’s renewable portfolio standard; in Washington DC, they did the same thing; and in Vermont, the Public Service Board cancelled a wood-burning power plant because of its greenhouse gas impacts.
There’s no dispute that biomass power plants emit about 3,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, ~50% more than a coal plant and three to four times the emissions of a gas plant. While those emissions might be offset in time, the scientific community understands (along with every grade-schooler you know), that while it takes a minute to burn a tree in a power plant, it takes decades to grow it back.
Since the biomass industry is losing on the science, they’re moving to the next chapter in the tobacco, fossil fuel, and chemical lobbyist playbook – they’re engaging in a flurry of propaganda, and, they’re legislating the science. Industry’s latest move has been to get compliant lawmakers to insert language into the House EPA appropriations bill that would declare bioenergy to be carbon neutral as long as forest carbon stocks are stable or increasing (this is a fallacy, which we debunk here). A similar, standalone bill was introduced by Senator Angus King, and bills like this are starting to show up at the state level, for instance in Oregon.
The biomass carbon neutrality provision, alongside all the other provisions designed to gut EPA and the agency’s ability to enact the Clean Power Plan, should be seen for what it is – a “poison pill.” In fact, there’s really no better way to sabotage the Clean Power Plan than by burning up the forest carbon sink in power plants and then forcing EPA to treat the electricity generated as if it has zero emissions.
The Administration sees the provision for what it is, mentioning it in the veto threat issued by the White House for the Appropriations bill:
The Administration objects to the bill's representation of forest biomass as categorically "carbon-neutral." This language conflicts with existing EPA policies on biogenic CO2 and interferes with the position of States that do not apply the same policies to forest biomass as other renewable fuels like solar or wind. This language stands in contradiction to a wide-ranging consensus on policies and best available science from EPA's own independent Science Advisory Board, numerous technical studies, many States, and various other stakeholders.
Policymakers who care about climate change: If you support bioenergy, you are supporting an industry that emits more greenhouse gases than coal, as a replacement for coal. You’re supporting an industry that has no problem with manipulating legislation to subvert science. You’re supporting an industry that pollutes, destroys forests, and makes alliance with the enemies of the Administration’s climate change efforts. Why do you keep such company?
Below is our factsheet on how the biomass provision in the EPA appropriations bill increases CO2 emissions and threatens forests. Click here to download a copy.