EPA issues BACT guidance, allows biomass

By Kris Bevill | October 14, 2010
Posted Nov. 10, 2010

On Nov. 10, the U.S. EPA issued guidance for developing best available control technologies (BACT) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at industrial facilities. The guidance can be used by affected entities and state permitters to assist in determining preferred GHG emission-reduction methods at a facility-level, according to the agency. BACT should be determined on a case-by-case basis, however, and therefore the EPA stressed that its guidance should not be viewed as a rule but rather as basic information. During a conference call, Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said the issuance of broad guidance is "business as usual for the BACT process" and should be familiar to state permitters as well as industry participants.

Certain entities affected by the EPA's tailoring rule, which allows the agency to regulate industrial GHG emissions, will be required to begin using BACT on Jan. 2. Between January and July, facilities that are already subject to Prevention of Significant Deterioration permitting requirements for other pollutants and are undergoing activities that will increase their GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tons of CO2 equivalent annually will be required to determine BACT for GHG emissions. The EPA estimates that only the largest sources of pollutants, such as large power plants, cement manufacturing facilities and oil refineries, will be participants of the tailoring rule in this timeframe. Beginning in July, the rule expands to include all facilities emitting more than 100,000 tons per year of CO2e. This category could include nearly all of the ethanol production facilities in the country as a result of an EPA decision made earlier this year to include biogenic emissions - emissions that occur as a result of the combustion or decomposition of biological materials - when determining the facility's GHG emission levels. (See "EPA's biogenic emissions rule could affect entire ethanol industry.") Biogenic emissions include emissions resulting from the fermentation process as well as emissions resulting from co-firing biomass as an energy input. Therefore, industry representatives have warned that if the biogenic emissions inclusion remains, few ethanol facilities would be inclined to reduce their fossil fuel intake by utilizing biomass sources.

According to EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn, the EPA is still evaluating whether biomass-based emissions should be included in GHG emissions calculations. No deadline has been set for a final decision on the matter. However, in its BACT guidance, the EPA states that biomass could be considered BACT in some instances, perhaps indicating that the agency will opt to not include biogenic emissions in GHG calculations. During the guidance announcement, McCarthy said the EPA understands that biomass can be part of an overall strategy to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, adding that the agency will provide additional guidance in January related to biomass use.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called the EPA's decision a "meaningful step forward" in recognizing biomass's potential role in reducing emissions. "EPA's step today acknowledges both the potential role of biomass in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the need to ensure that energy policy properly accounts for both the sequestration and emissions associated with bioenergy," he stated. "USDA will continue to work with EPA to ensure that the greenhouse gas benefits of biomass energy are properly accounted for under this administration's energy and climate policies."

The EPA has established a website - www.epa.gov/nsr/ghgpermitting- to house its BACT guidance documentation. White papers on control technologies for specific industries are stored on the site as well as contact information for the agency's regional representatives and other background information.