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New EPA tailoring rule offers no breaks for biomass power

May 19, 2010


With a new tailoring rule, EPA is poised to begin formally regulating greenhouse gases from large sources. With no exemption, biomass industry sees chilling message in the new rule.
The U.S. EPA released an updated version of its final “tailoring” rule this week outlining which polluters will be required to account for their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when obtaining New Source Review and Title V operating permits under the Clean Air Act.
The newly issued tailoring rule comes on the heels of EPA’s endangerment finding released last December in the lead-up to Copenhagen as well as extensive study, debate, and hundreds of thousands of public comments.
The agency is set to begin formally regulating GHGs for large industrial plants in January 2011, while exempting smaller sources like farms, restaurants, schools and other facilities. Under the proposal, EPA estimated that 14,000 large industrial sources would need to obtain greenhouse gas permits, and about 3,000 of those sources would be newly subject to Clean Air Act operating permit requirements.
The schedule for phasing in sources looks like this:
January 2011: facilities that must already obtain New Source Review permits for other pollutants will be required to include GHGs in their permits if they increase their emissions of the gases by at least 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year
July 1, 2011: EPA will extend the requirements to new construction projects that emit at least 100,000 tons of GHGs and existing facilities that increase their emissions by at least 75,000 tons per year, even if they do not exceed thresholds for other pollutants. Sources that emit at least 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year will also be required to account for GHG emissions in their Title V operating permits.
July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013: EPA estimates about 550 sources will need to obtain operating permits for the first time due to their GHG emissions. Most of those sources will likely be solid waste landfills and industrial manufacturers, according to EPA. About 900 new facilities and modifications per year will trigger New Source Review permitting requirements based on greenhouse gas emissions. New and upgraded facilities that are subject to the requirements will be required to install the “best available control technology” to control their greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenwire reports that the U.S. EPA’s final rule exempts biomass power, a decision that has raised concern in the biomass industry.
EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn explains that emissions from biomass or biogenic sources are treated the same as other sources of greenhouse gases in the final rule. That decision has come as a surprise to industry groups that urged the EPA to exclude biomass combustion form the requirements, arguing that the process is “carbon neutral.” These groups include the National Alliance of Forest Owners, American Forest & Paper Association, and other woody biomass stakeholders.
Groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) argued for the EPA’s rule distinguishing between biomass that creates carbon pollution and biomass that does not. Franz Matzner, a policy analyst at NRDC, notes that the science around biomass continues to make clear that not all biomass is good from a carbon footprint perspective. Some sources of biomass can theoretically be carbon-beneficial: for example, taking waste streams from agricultural crops and burning that is most likely going to give you reductions in greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels. On the other side of the fence, chopping down a swath of forest that then gets turned into a parking lot and burning it puts carbon in the atmosphere that’s not going to regrow.
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