Federal Court Strikes Down EPA’s Biomass Emissions Loophole
Georgia ForestWatch played an important role in this major legal victory that will protect the forests that we love, help reduce respiratory ailments and control carbon dioxide emissions!
A key federal court ruling on July 12, 2013, confirmed that the Clean Air Act limits on carbon dioxide pollution apply to industrial facilities, including tree-burning power plants that burn biomass. The ruling upholds the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) authority to regulate pollution that drives climate change. Georgia ForestWatch played an important role in this major legal victory that will protect the forests that we love, help reduce respiratory ailments and control carbon dioxide emissions!
This ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed in August 2011 by Georgia ForestWatch, Wild Virginia, the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation and the Natural Resources Council for Maine. The lawsuit asked the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn the carbon dioxide exemption for wood-fired power plants and other “biomass” incinerators. Although the EPA announced in June 2010 that they would begin to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as pollutants, after aggressive lobbying by the Forest Products and Bio-energy Industry, the EPA changed course and exempted wood and biomass burning facilities from carbon dioxide emissions for a period of three years. This change not only freed these plants from carbon dioxide regulations, but also exempted these plants from the requirement that they use “best available” technology in constructing or revamping their plants to burn biomass.
This free pass for the Bio-energy Industry could have a large impact on the vast acreages of public and private forest land located in the Southeast, where it could create increasing pressure to cut native, standing forests for fuel. The EPA ruling touched off a rush to build or convert facilities to burn biomass that were unfortunately eligible for misguided subsidies. At the time, Kevin Bundy, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “The science is clear: Burning our forests for energy makes no sense as a strategy for dealing with climate change. Widespread biomass development, which the EPA’s illegal exemption aims to facilitate, will undermine our ability to meet critical near-term greenhouse gas reduction goals and further degrade our nation’s forest ecosystems.”
Several Georgia ForestWatch members gave sworn declarations concerning the effects of global warming on our forests. This was a necessary step to establish “standing” on the part of Georgia ForestWatch to challenge the EPA action.
This past week the conservative DC Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the environment and common sense, and struck down the EPA exemption. In their ruling, the court noted that “the atmosphere can’t tell the difference between fossil fuel carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide emitted by burning trees.” In fact biomass plants produce more carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy produced than fossil fuel plants, and nearly all existing biomass plants are out of compliance with existing air quality regulations. This does not even take into consideration the energy expended to cut, chop and transport biomass, and the impact clear-cutting has on soil, water, forests and wildlife.
We thank our long-time legal partners, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Attorney Frank Rambo (Senior Attorney and Leader of their Clean Energy and Air Program) for their excellent work!