Biomass Deferment Debate

NAFO intervenes in Tailoring Rule lawsuit.
By Anna Austin | June 22, 2011

When the U.S. EPA’s final Tailoring Rule proposal was released in January, the biomass power industry was somewhat satisfied with the three-year deferment of the permitting requirements for carbon dioxide emissions from biogenic sources.

That would give the EPA time to ensure that greenhouse gas policies properly account for the emissions and carbon sequestration associated with biomass, a subject of heated debate among the scientific community.

The decision to defer biomass has come under fire by some environmental groups. In April, the Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Law Foundation filed a lawsuit against the EPA, claiming the agency doesn’t have authority to retroactively exclude biomass facilities from the rule’s scope.

In a move to protect the interest of its members, David Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, has filed a motion to intervene. “We agree with the direction EPA is going, revisiting the Tailoring Rule,” he says. “In this case, the organizations that have filed suit have opposed what the EPA is proposing to do, and that’s not usually done through a lawsuit unless it is because something has violated the rulemaking process or the law. In this case, we don’t see that either has occurred, and we had to intervene to make sure that the process continues.”

Since NAFO filed its motion, the lawsuit proponents have filed a motion with the court to hold their case until the rulemaking is over. “I think that sends a signal that they realize it was probably not going to be successful at this point in the process,” Tenny says. “It is now on hold until the rule is completed, and EPA is trying to finish it by July.”

NAFO expects that when the rule is complete, the lawsuit will return. “If that’s the case then so be it, our policy overall is to make sure that federal policy recognizes the carbon benefits of biomass energy, that’s an extension of the benefits that come from forests,” Tenny says. “It’s an important benefit that has real public and economic value, and it’s something that is important to NAFO’s members and should be to the nation.”

The challenge with biomass carbon emissions is that there is some confusion between science and policy, Tenny says. “The science of the carbon cycle is settled,” he says. “We understand how it works, we understand that it’s ongoing, and we understand that carbon is moved in regular fluxes between the earth and the atmosphere. In the U.S. it’s a very settled proposition that the carbon flux has produced net carbon in the ground in the form of trees.”

Ever year, U.S. forests remove enough net carbon to offset 15 percent of the country’s industrial emissions, Tenny says. “If that’s the case, then our forests are operating as a net carbon sink and it begs the question of whether we are really adding carbon into the atmosphere when we use some of the wood in the forests for energy.”

The confusion—even though the science is settled—is caused by those who want to manipulate or change the parameters within which forest carbon are looked at, Tenny adds. “If you were to make the time frame and area small enough, you can get a different answer from what we’ve received from the other approaches we’ve taken.”