WASHINGTON, D.C. - Pushback rises on burning wood fiber in electric generating plants, as scientists and environmentalists question whether it is, indeed, carbon neutral.
A U.S. Senate committee is leaning toward labeling wood-fired power plants as carbon neutral. Panel manufacturers have complained in the past such actions would raise the cost of raw materials for wood products companies. The Energy Policy Modernization Act could become law within a few weeks. The bill is in the reconciliation process with a Congressional version. Senators from states heavily forested states, including Maine and Oregon, support the move.
One of the biggest producers and providers of wood pellets in the world commissions an American plant in Urania, Louisiana.
This latest turn of events follows other legislative efforts to support using wood fiber as fuel, including the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act of 2015, introduced by U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) to provide tax breaks for conversion of oil-fired boilers to wood burning. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) co-sponsored it.
Operating under the "carbon neutral" concept of wood fired power generation, the U.K. and Germany have converted coal fired boilers to wood pellets. German firms have built massive pellet plants for export in the South and East U.S.
State governments in forest regions of the U.S. are also eyeing wood pellet production as a job creation tool. A report for Midwestern states calculated 153 jobs arise for every 100,000 tons of wood pellets produced. Find "Heating the Midwest with Renewable Biomass" here.
The new legislation would reverse a 2013 federal court ruling that Clean Air Act limits on carbon dioxide pollution apply to industrial facilities that burn biomass, including tree-burning power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had carved out an exception for “biogenic carbon dioxide."
In February, 65 scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center, a climate think tank, sent a letter to ten U.S. senators working on the bill. In it the scientists objected to an amendment to the act - which the Senate committee has already accepted - that would legally designate forest biomass to be “carbon neutral.”
"This means that U.S. Federal agencies would be required to assume that burning wood (instead of coal) to generate electricity emits no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, even though this is not the case," says the group. "This well-intentioned legislation, which claims to address climate change, would, in fact promote deforestation in the U.S. and elsewhere and make climate change much worse." Read that entire letter below:
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