Lax EPA Regs Allow Biomass to Pollute More Than Coal

InsideClimate News: “A new study charges that government regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes that allow wood-burning facilities to spew more toxic emissions in the air than coal-fired power plants.”

“The findings are refueling a controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and able to qualify for green incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal.”

“The study, conducted by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants.”

The loopholes include: “EPA giving biomass plants a ‘free pass’ on limiting CO2 emissions; states not requiring operators to control short-term air emissions spikes at smaller facilities; and states not mandating extra monitoring at plants that burn wood waste, which emit more toxic pollutants.”

Mary Booth, the study’s author says that “biomass should be regulated the same way as coal: ‘We’re talking about the same pollution, the same health effects, but biomass plants get to emit two and a half times as much.'”

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  • Dan Sanchez

    This report is misleading in a number of regards. First, claiming that bioenergy projects release more carbon dioxide per MWh than coal ignores the carbon dioxide affixed during photosynthesis during biomass growth (while it’s true that carbon dioxide emissions are higher at the point source, i.e. the biomass power plant itself, the actual emissions factor is a vestige of the EPA’s accounting rules). Second, bioenergy plants are typically smaller and less efficient than coal plants (which are often >500MW in capacity). Holding bioenergy plants to the same standards as large coal plants would set an extremely high bar for this renewable electricity source.

  • MSB

    The previous comment, which states,
    “Holding bioenergy plants to the same standards as large coal plants would set an extremely high bar for this renewable electricity source”
    simply reinforces our point. Biomass power plants are dirtier than coal, but we are subsidizing them with renewable energy dollars when those subsidies could be supporting truly no-emissions renewable energy.

    Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, author of the “Trees, Trash, and Toxics” report

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