EPA hears biomass proponents

By Lisa Gibson | April 05, 2011

Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association, urged the U.S. EPA during a public hearing April 5 to move expeditiously in its analysis of the carbon impacts of biomass-based energy, as delays will cause regulatory uncertainty and economic harm.

Cleaves was one of a number of speakers to address the hearing panel on the agency’s proposal to defer for three years the Clean Air Act permitting requirements for carbon dioxide emissions from biogenic sources, including biomass. During that time, the EPA says it will conduct a detailed examination on the science surrounding the issue. The agency said a diverse group of expert scientists in the industry, as well as other stakeholders and an independent scientific panel, will help to determine how these emissions should be treated under EPA’s air permitting program.

Around 100 people called in to a live teleconference of the 2½-hour public hearing, held in Washington D.C. A transcript will be posted to the federal register, as well as EPA’s website, according to the agency.

In his testimony, Cleaves said members of the BPA use open-loop biomass residues and byproducts of the forestry and agricultural sectors. “We leave to others to comment on the broader scientific issues surrounding the entire category of biomass,” he said. “Instead, our focus will be on the carbon science around open-loop biomass use, which is well understood and, we submit, beyond dispute.”

Cleaves went on to describe current hardships in the biomass power industry, including the 2009 expiration of the production tax credit for existing facilities, and uncertainty surrounding its extension. “In essence, we are giving away our environmental benefits for free at a time of falling fossil generation prices and increasing operating costs. These factors have led to many plant shut downs across the country.”

Roger Martella, attorney with Sidley Austin LLP in Washington D.C., told the panel at the hearing that, despite recent reports, the EPA does have the legal authority to distinguish biomass emissions from that of fossil fuels, and to subsequently decline to regulate biomass emissions. Chris Bliley, director of regulatory affairs for ethanol producer Growth Energy, also spoke in favor nonregulation of biomass carbon emissions, as well as sustainability criteria for biomass sources.

Dave Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners said he is eager to work with the EPA to establish a policy recognizing the benefits of forest biomass as an energy source.

“We urge the EPA to utilize the significant resources available to it through interested government, industry and NGO (nongovernmental organization) stakeholders to quickly and accurately analyze the carbon impacts of biomass-based energy, and look forward to participating in this very important process,” Cleaves said.