The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to defer, for three years, greenhouse gas permitting requirements for carbon dioxide emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources. The agency says it will use this time to seek further independent scientific analysis of this complex issue and and develop a rulemaking on how these emissions should be treated in determining whether a Clean Air Act permit is required. The agency will also seek input from its partners within the federal government and from outside scientists who have relevant expertise.
According to the Renewable Fuels Association, this means biogenic CO2 emissions from ethanol fermentation will not be subject to newly enacted permitting requirements under EPA's so-called GHG Tailoring Rule for at least three years. Biogenic CO2 emissions that result from the fermentation of corn or other biomass are, by nature, carbon neutral because those emissions are naturally offset when the biomass removes an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere via photosynthesis.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says they are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy. Also, EPA will give further consideration to the more than 7,000 comments it received from its July 2010 Call for Information, including comments noting that burning certain types of biomass may emit the same amount of CO2 emissions that would be emitted if they were not burned as fuel, while others may result in a net increase in CO2 emissions.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack supports EPA's announcement and says EPA's action will provide the agency with the time it needs to ensure that greenhouse gas policies properly account for the emissions and carbon sequestration associated with biomass.
The Renewable Fuels Association is also pleased with EPA's announcement. RFA President Bob Dinneen says EPA's deferral is the right step, given that the science clearly shows using biomass for energy does not add to atmospheric CO2 levels on a net basis. Dinneen says failure to exempt biogenic ethanol fermentation emissions from the GHG Tailoring Rule's permitting requirements would have been unnecessarily costly and burdensome for our industry.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says his organization supports EPA's decision as well and that carbon policy should be based on the best available science and methodologies. He also says they strongly support consultation and collaboration with farmers and ranchers as the United States moves forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.