EPA to defer biogenic emissions regulations for 3 years

By Kris Bevill | January 12, 2011

In a move that will benefit ethanol producers nationwide, the U.S. EPA announced Jan. 12 that it will defer greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting requirements for biogenic emissions for three years while it conducts scientific analysis and develops a rulemaking to specifically address emissions from those sources.

Biogenic emissions are defined by the EPA as being emissions that occur as the result of combustion or decomposition of biological materials. These types of emissions have historically been deemed carbon neutral by regulating authorities nationwide, but the EPA deviated from that protocol last May when it included biogenic emissions in its final Tailoring Rule. The rule established thresholds for GHG emissions, defining when permits would be required for new and existing industrial facilities, with the goal of incentivizing facilities to reduce their overall GHG emissions. Requiring biogenic emissions to be included in GHG calculations would have been disastrous for the ethanol industry. Emissions produced through the corn fermentation process are considered biogenic emissions, therefore ethanol’s carbon intensity would have been greatly exaggerated if the industry were required to include those emissions as GHG emissions. Additionally, producers co-firing biomass to reduce their fossil fuel intake would be essentially punished for utilizing a renewable resource.

The EPA received more than 7,000 comments in response to a call for information it issued in July, requesting input on biogenic emissions. The agency said it will now be able to devote time to reviewing those comments and will also seek scientific input from experts within the federal government as well as outside scientists with expertise on the matter. “We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. “In the coming years we will develop a commonsense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy. Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack commended the EPA for its decision, echoing Jackson’s sentiment that renewable energy from wood, switchgrass and other sources should be utilized. “EPA’s action will provide the agency with the time it needs to ensure that GHG policies properly account for the emissions and carbon sequestration associated with biomass,” he said. “In many cases, energy produced from biomass will provide significant reductions of GHGs relative to fossil fuels. The USDA looks forward to working with EPA in ensuring that this administration’s policies use the best science and spur innovation and job creation in the renewable energy sector.”

The first phase of the Tailoring Rule came into effect on Jan. 2. Affected sources for this leg of the regulation include only those emitters that would be required to obtain Prevention of Significant Deterioration permits anyway. On July 1, the regulation will expand to include new construction projects that will emit GHG emissions of at least 100,000 tons per year, even if those projects would not otherwise be subjected to PSD permitting requirements. Operating permits will also be required beginning July 1 for existing facilities emitting at least 100,000 tons per year of GHG emissions. Many large ethanol facilities, 100 MMgy and larger, exceed the 100,000 ton-per-year emissions threshold through the use of fossil fuels and will therefore be required to begin complying with the Tailoring Rule on July 1.

The Renewable Fuels Association has been an outspoken opponent of biogenic emission inclusions since the EPA first issued its Tailoring Rule last May. RFA President Bob Dinneen said the EPA’s decision to defer permitting requirements for biogenic emissions is good news for the ethanol industry, adding that scientific evidence proves emissions from biomass sources do not add to atmospheric CO2 levels on a net basis. “Inclusion of biogenic fermentation emissions meant the permitting requirements would have been unnecessarily costly and burdensome for our industry,” he said. “We appreciate EPA’s sensible approach to this complex issue and look forward to working with the agency on a commonsense solution.”