Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power plants that was met with mixed reviews. On the question critical to forest owners, EPA states in the preamble to the rule:
"EPA recognizes that biomass-derived fuels can play an important role in CO2 emission reduction strategies. We anticipate that states likely will consider biomass-derived fuels in energy production as a way to mitigate the CO2 emissions attributed to the energy sector and include them as part of their plans to meet the emission reduction requirements of this rule and we think it is important to define a clear path for states to do so."
So far so good. But this is only a small rhetorical step in the right direction. EPA now must take meaningful strides toward a final policy clearly recognizing biomass as a solution to reduce carbon emissions by finally completing its long awaited framework for measuring carbon from biomass energy.
Until this framework is completed biomass will only be a theoretical part of EPA’s policies. And, unless it is completed by July when EPA’s deferral of biomass from the greenhouse gas “Tailoring Rule” expires, biomass will be regulated the same as fossil fuels. That would be a giant step backward.
In order for biomass to help achieve the objectives in the President’s Climate Action Plan, EPA must send a clear signal to the marketplace that biomass energy helps reduce carbon in the atmosphere. This will require the agency to adopt a carbon accounting framework founded on measurable data rather than speculative modeling and affirm in the framework that biomass energy doesn’t increase carbon in the atmosphere so long as forests continue to accumulate carbon, or when biomass comes from mill or harvest residues or from thinnings that increase forest health and vigor. EPA must also apply the framework consistently across state lines to foster market stability.
Positive statements in a rule preamble are encouraging, but they aren’t policy. The biomass marketplace needs a clear, affirmative policy. Anything short of this will simply add to the confusion and ambivalence that drives investment away. If EPA is serious about achieving workable ways to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, the agency must produce an accounting framework that welcomes biomass as a clean energy solution, and do it soon.