Archive for January 12th, 2011

EPA outsmarts biomass industry

January 12, 2011

“Biomass-inine” is the only way to describe the biomass industry’s deal with the EPA.

Administrator Lisa Jackson announced today that the biomass industry would be exempt from the agency’s greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for three years, pending more research on whether biomass is truly “carbon neutral”:

The agency intends to use this time to seek further independent scientific analysis of this complex issue and then to develop a rulemaking on how these emissions should be treated in determining whether a Clean Air Act permit is required.

Dave Tenny, the president of the National Association of Forest Owners told Greenwire,

“We think this is a very positive step in the right direction.”

But the agency had already declared biomass to be carbon neutral in its April 2010 “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2008”:

“…because biomass fuels are of biogenic origin, . . . [i]t is assumed that the carbon (C) released during the consumption of biomass is recycled as U.S. forests and crops regenerate, causing no net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere.”

Based on that statement, biomass should be permanently excluded from GHG regulation.

Note that in the above-captioned statement, however, the EPA only “assumed” biomass to be carbon neutral. And as argued in a July 2010 missive from the radical green Center for Biological Diversity,

The “carbon neutrality” assumption is just that—an assumption, not a fact. “Carbon neutrality,” if it exists at all, must be demonstrated on a project-specific basis, taking into account all emissions from biomass production, transport, processing, and combustion, all emissions and lost sequestration capacity associated with forest thinning and clearing operations, and actual analysis of fossil fuel displacement.

In the la-la-land of manmade global warming, that would seem to be quite a good point. There would seem to be much difference in say leaving biomass to decompose slowly versus the combination of fossil fuel-reliant harvesting and accelerated carbon-emitting through combustion.

But whether or not biomass is carbon neutral is just a distraction.

What’s really going on is that the EPA has effectively eliminated a potentially powerful foe from the upcoming political battle over the agency’s GHG regulations.

By embracing the CBD’s argument and reneging on its earlier assumption that biomass is carbon neutral, the EPA now has a passable excuse for denying the green-hated biomass industry a permanent exemption from GHG regulation. But since the agency doesn’t want to permanently antagonize the industry and its political supporters, especially now in the heat of battle over GHG regulation, a three-year reprieve has been granted.

Conveniently, that three-year period is just about the time that it will probably take to complete the ongoing litigation over the EPA’s climate rules. It also removes the issue from the 2012 presidential election. This obviously helps the EPA out a lot now while giving the biomass industry essentially nothing in return and setting it up to be screwed later.

Underscoring the EPA’s attempt to defuse political tensions are letters sent by Administrator Jackson to biomass champions Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), reading in relevant part:

“I hope you will see the steps described in this letter as following through on my prior commitment to exercise whatever discretion the Clean Air Act affords to avoid discouraging the use of renewable, domestically-produced fuel in power plants and factories.”

Through the 2012 election, the EPA will likely implement its greenhouse gas regulations gingerly and with an eye out toward not making more political enemies for President Obama. So it’s unlikely that the biomass industry would have felt any pain during that time from the EPA. But in three years — when the litigation and election are over — the biomass industry could very well be at the Obama EPA’s mercy.

If the fossil fuel industry has lost the war by 2014, then the biomass industry will be on its own defending itself against an Obama EPA that takes no prisoners. The EPA has long excelled, you see, at dividing and conquering business. It’s the agency’s most effective tactic.

The EPA threw the biomass industry a thin bone by classifying biomass as “best available control technology” during the three-year period. But this is a worthless gesture since no significant fossil fuel burner will be required by the agency to switch from coal or natural gas to biomass.

Lobbyist Tenny is right that the EPA’s action is a “very positive step in the right direction” — for the EPA.