Although the administration’s finalized Clean Power Plan was released in early August, EPA is still actively grappling with the rules regarding biomass feedstocks as a compliance option under the Plan. Biomass (or biogenic) feedstocks include wastes such as organic wastes, lumber, pulp and paper industry wastes, agricultural residues and purpose-grown feedstocks. Solid biomass can be co-fired with coal in existing plants or used in renewable heating applications.
The biomass industry argues that the utilization of biomass as an electricity source is an attractive option for states as it has the potential to sequester carbon as additional feedstocks are grown, it provides incentives to landowners to maintain working agricultural and forested lands and it allows regions to capture value from materials that are usually disposed of as waste. If not utilized, such wastes can become a source of greenhouse gases. Already, a number of states allow for utilization in their state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Support from both the House and Senate for federal recognition of biomass as a renewable source of electricity is also strong.
Despite the attractiveness to industry and some states, many in the environmental community have expressed concern that EPA’s inclusion of biomass in the Plan, particularly woody varieties, will lead to numerous negative environmental consequences, including increased carbon emissions, increased deforestation, and ecosystem destruction.
To ensure that biomass feedstocks are utilized in a manner that reduces overall carbon emissions, EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation has tasked its Science Advisory Board (SAB) with untangling the complex issues surrounding carbon accounting for feedstocks. Carbon accounting is a calculation of the net carbon emitted or sequestered by the growth and utilization of any given biomass feedstock over a particular time scale. On September 9, the EPA’s Scientific Advisory met on the issue, indicating that the agency is finalizing its Framework for Assessing Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources.