Big news on biomass and green building


Big news was announced on two issues that we have been following closely: the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to limit the biomass industry, and the ongoing battle over what forest certification systems the U.S. Green Building Council should use.

Both issues have high stakes for the timber industry. If the EPA’s proposed rule passes, it could stop the burgeoning biomass industry dead in its tracks. And as green building becomes more popular, it’s critical that the U.S. Green Building Council take into account all reputable forest certification systems.

The news was very positive out of Washington, D.C., this week on the EPA issue. The EPA said it planned to push back the issuance of the final greenhouse-gas emission rules for more than a year, from next month to April 2012. Not only that, but the EPA will come out with new rules altogether because of new information it received about the impact and science behind its original proposal.

This is a huge victory for the timber industry, though we caution that the rules are still up in the air and could eventually have an adverse impact on biomass.

The EPA’s announcement brought condemnation from environmental groups, such as EarthJustice, which said it would allow pollutants and endanger lives. And even less biased observers suggested that the political winds might be changing with Republicans taking over the U.S. House next month.

But industry groups hailed the decision.

Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association:

“The EPA is listening, and we at BPA are hopeful that the agency will make the right decision, which could save thousands of American jobs and provide strong support for the American renewable energy sector.” (Full comment)

Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council:

“There’s no question that EPA’s boiler rule as originally written would have resulted in significant costs for manufacturers and small business and ultimately would have cost jobs.” (Full comment)

Keith McCoy, VP at the National Association of Manufacturers:

“Clearly, the agency has heard the calls from manufacturers to thoroughly analyze the achievability and economic impact of these expensive and complex proposals…We hope this week’s announcements signal that the EPA is slowing down on overly burdensome and unnecessary rules that will crush economic growth and job creation.” (Full comment)

The second piece of news is the decision by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to reject new rules that would have allowed more flexibility in what forest certifications are allowed in the USGBC’s LEED standard.

As we wrote last month, the new rules were opposed by both sides of the debate. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system did not want to lose its monopoly on LEED, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which has been trying to get recognized by LEED for years, said the new rules were too complex and didn’t go far enough.

So it wasn’t a surprise that the new rules — which were meant to be a compromise — only got 55 percent of the vote.

The problem remains, however: FSC gets to keep its monopoly on the LEED standard and the much more popular SFI is frozen out.

Both FSC and SFI say they want the Green Building Council to revisit the forest certification rules, but the council — understandably — is leery to jump back into the fray, at least right away.

In the meantime, Kathy Abusow, the President of SFI, sounds like she’s ready to change strategy. She says builders should stop trying to meet the LEED standard for wood and just use SFI wood instead.

For now the building community should forgo the one point in the certified wood credit and use SFI-certified products in LEED buildings to demonstrate their pride and support for North American forests, communities, and jobs.