The Hill, August 15, 2011
Green groups challenge EPA on biomass climate exemption
By Ben German
Green groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to exempt, at least for now, biomass power plants from greenhouse gas permitting rules that began phasing in this year.
EPA in January announced it would delay permitting for power plants and other facilities for three years. But the groups challenging the decision on Monday cited threats to forests, especially in the Southeast.
“The South is already seeing a huge uptick in the number of new and retrofitted facilities that will burn woody biomass, which will create increasing pressure to cut native, standing forests for fuel,” said Frank Rambo of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing Georgia ForestWatch and Wild Virginia in the lawsuit.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation and the Natural Resources Council of Maine are also asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn EPA’s decision.
The groups fear that the expansion of biomass power will create demand that outstrips the available waste products from forests, which will mean that facilities will use standing trees.
The permitting delay rule EPA issued this year came amid pressure from the forest industry and some Capitol Hill lawmakers who are fearful that applying emissions rules to biomass would stymie the market for the energy source.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson defended the permitting delay when announcing it in January.
“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy. In the coming years we will develop a commonsense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy,” she said in a statement.
EPA finalized the delay last month. In addition to power plants that burn biomass, it also applies to a range of other industrial plants that use biomass for energy, such as pulp-and-paper mills and ethanol plants.
EPA said it will use the three-year delay to gather more scientific analysis about how to account for biomass emissions, and then craft a rule about how the emissions should be addressed when determining whether facilities need permits.
But on Monday the green groups that filed the new lawsuit strongly attacked EPA’s decision.
“The EPA has no authority to just waive the Clean Air Act for the benefit of politically favored industries, as it has for the forest products and bioenergy industries here," said Kevin Bundy, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The science is clear: Burning our forests for energy makes no sense as a strategy for dealing with climate change,” he said.
© 2011 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp.
This article originally appeared here.