Press Release | January 12, 2011

EPA Backs Down on Controlling Greenhouse Gases from Burning Biomass

Today the EPA changed course and said it will not regulate carbon dioxide from facilities that burn trees and other biomass for at least three years. In the meantime, biomass facilities that come online or upgrade will not have to control for those emissions.

This is particularly unwelcome news for the South, the ‘fiber basket of the nation,’ where utilities and independent power producers are already proposing a number of large wood-fired power plants and have indicated they will use standing forests  to help fuel these plants.

Following is a statement from David Carr:

“This is a 180-degree change in EPA’s policy and we vigorously disagree. While it’s reasonable for the EPA to continue evaluating the issue, it should not grant a blanket exemption in the meantime to industries planning to set up shop and burn trees for electricity, something it declined to do last year.

“More and more studies show that cutting down forests to burn for energy production often increases greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists generally agree that the next few decades are critical in terms of slowing our carbon emissions.  A free pass on carbon emissions now means that facilities coming online in the next few years will rely on standing trees as a fuel source for several decades, undermining many other efforts to combat climate change.

“The decision eliminates the incentive for companies to pursue biomass projects that are proven to truly help address climate change.”


Contrary to the position often espoused by industry, burning trees to produce electricity is often not carbon neutral. Forests in the U. S. currently sequester more than 10% of our annual carbon emissions. Burning trees in power plants releases their stored carbon into the atmosphere, usually releasing more CO2 per unit of energy produced than burning coal.  While re-growing trees can recapture the levels of  carbon that were released, it would take over 100 years to reach carbon neutrality and over 30 years to have net life-cycle emissions lower than coal. While use of some woody biomass, such as wood residues,  and wood waste can be carbon neutral using standing forests is likely to increase CO2 in the atmosphere.

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