Biomass Gets a Boost: EPA Eases Up on Regulations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is scaling back on greenhouse gas permitting requirements for facilities that burn biomass.

The EPA said it would take a three-year deferral to determine whether the biomass materials – which include farm waste, sawmill scraps and forest thinnings – should be considered a green resource.

The deferral came after members of Congress put pressure on the EPA to ease up on regulations, saying the stringent rules on industrial carbon emissions would get in the way of developing a new biomass industry that could act as a major job creator and a source of domestically produced fuel.

“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy. In the coming years we will develop a commonsense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a news release. “Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”

The EPA said it would amend the regulation issued earlier this month that included biomass facilities in emissions regulations. The new rule will go into effect July 1.

More than two dozen members of Congress contend that that biomass can be considered carbon neutral if regulators count emissions as something that would result anyway when wood rots.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has launched an initiative to create jobs by putting people to work thinning national forests to reduce the threat of forest fires. To pay for those jobs, he’ll need nearby biomass-burning facilities that will purchase trees and branches from thinned woodlands.

Timberland owners, who have been struggling with declining lumber prices since the housing market tanked, say biomass should be considered a green fuel.

“It is now critical that we work together in the coming months on deliberate steps to support biomass energy production,” Dave Tenny, president of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, said in a statement, according to AP.

Others say biomass isn’t as green as it seems. Meg Sheehan of the Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign in Cambridge, Mass. claims that the EPA is ignoring the fact that biomass produces more greenhouse gas than coal.

“I find it very disturbing that the Obama administration and [USDA] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack are punting on making this decision until after the next presidential election,” AP quoted Sheehan as saying. “I think it shows extreme disregard for the health of the American people.”

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