Last week the Supreme Court announced it would review the validity of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Tailoring Rule” or the rule that “tailors” the application of the agency’s new greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations to new or renovated power plants and factories that emit a sufficiently large amount of GHGs. The Court considered petitions to review a variety of issues but granted review on a single issue—whether EPA’s regulation of GHG emissions from mobile sources triggers the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, such as factories and utilities, under the PSD and Title V permitting requirements of the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Court’s answer to this question could determine whether the Tailoring Rule remains on the books or whether the agency has to go back to the drawing board.
This gives rise to an important question – If the Supreme Court could invalidate the Tailoring Rule, what should be EPA’s course of action on proposing amendments to the Tailoring Rule on the treatment of carbon emissions from biogenic sources, like forest biomass? The answer is simple and straight forward – full steam ahead.
Regardless of what the Supreme Court says about the Tailoring Rule, the fundamental question of how biomass energy fits into climate change and energy policy remains. By unexpectedly treating biomass the same as fossil fuels, the 2010 Tailoring Rule moved biomass energy from the solution side of the climate change ledger to the problem side for the first time. This happened because the rule did not account for the full carbon benefits of biomass as part of a natural carbon cycle. Stated more simply, the Tailoring Rule only considered carbon going into the atmosphere when biomass is burned for energy and did not consider the carbon taken from the atmosphere when trees grow. This omission is profound considering that forests in the U.S. accumulate enough net carbon each year to offset 12% of our industrial emissions notwithstanding all of the carbon released from our forests for all uses, including energy.
EPA has recognized the need to correct this position, and the agency’s forthcoming amendments to the Tailoring Rule have been the vehicle to do this. Key to EPA’s amendments is development of an appropriate methodology to account for the net carbon impacts of biomass energy taking into account the full carbon cycle. This methodology will have broad application beyond the Tailoring Rule and will likely become the methodology to account for biomass energy carbon emissions in future policies. If done in a way that recognizes and applies scientifically proven and internationally accepted norms for carbon accounting, it will demonstrate the significant carbon benefits of using biomass as an energy source. For this reason, the most prudent course of action for EPA is to press forward on the Tailoring Rule amendments and the accompanying biomass carbon accounting methodology.
At best it puts the agency in the position to complete the amendments shortly after the Supreme Court decides the Tailoring Rule case and, assuming the Court upholds the rule, finally remove the cloud of uncertainty over biomass energy. At worst it provides a valuable carbon accounting tool for future policy that will help biomass reclaim its rightful place as a key part of the climate change solution.
The President stated in today’s proclamation commemorating National Forest Products Week that “forests play a valuable role in combatting climate change and protecting the air we breathe.” We couldn’t agree more. Completing the biogenic amendments to the Tailoring Rule with an approach to carbon accounting that fully captures the carbon benefits of biomass energy will help us play the role the President envisions.
NAFO is an organization of private forest owners committed to advancing federal policies that promote the economic and environmental benefits of privately-owned forests at the national level.NAFO membership encompasses more than 80 million acres of private forestland in 47 states. Working forests in the U.S. support 2.4 million jobs. To see the full economic impact of America’s working forests, visit http://www.nafoalliance.org/working-forests/jobs-economic-growth.