Why the federal biomass rule matters


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now considering  whether to pull its exemption for biomass plants when it comes to obtaining greenhouse-gas emissions permits. These proposed changes to what’s called the “Tailoring Rule” would mean that biomass plants would no longer be considered carbon-neutral by the EPA, and it would make it more difficult for the plants to pencil out financially.

The National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) just petitioned the EPA to stop any changes to the Tailoring Rule. Here is what NAFO President David Tenny had to say:

EPA’s reversal…was a significant step backward for renewable energy that came as a surprise without prior notice or adequate explanation in the record. If allowed to stand, this decision will cripple the biomass energy marketplace at the very moment when our nation needs additional investment to realize its renewable energy goals. It could also cause significant harm to forest owners and mills using biomass energy that, combined, form the economic and employment backbone of many rural communities.

Meanwhile, the Daily World in Abderdeen, Wash., just wrote a profile of a local biomass plant that shows exactly what the plants are capable of doing. The Sierra Pacific Industries sawmill has an 18-megawatt biomass plant that supplies electricity to the public and is one of the biggest sources of renewable energy in Grays Harbor County. The plant’s electricity generated from wood waste is expected to only go up and eventually supply enough to ensure the local public utility district complies with Initiative 937, which requires Washington utilities to generate 15 percent renewable power by 2020.

Lastly, we go to Massachusetts, which has been probably the least timber-friendly state in the country the last few months. First the state jacked up the amount of public forestland where logging is banned, from 13 percent to 60 percent. And then a state-sponsored study spread a lot of misinformation nationally about the carbon impact of biomass.

But the Boston Globe, in an editorial this week, came out in support of reasonable concessions for the timber industry and noted the importance of working forests:

It would be a mistake for conservationists to criticize the state’s aid to timbering. The greatest threat to Massachusetts forests is not logging but development. If a more vibrant wood products industry can help keep private land owners from seeking a bigger payoff from developers peddling sprawl, so much the better. Forests that are harvested grow back; those that are paved don’t.