EPA burned by Proposed Biomass Rules

“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy. 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.”— EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

That is what the EPA Administrator said a January 12 2011 EPA press statement walking back plans by her agency to set stricter rules for greenhouse gas emissions from the biomass energy sector after a howl of protests from the industry and many of its supporters.

What she meant ‘between the lines’ of this press statement was an admission that EPA failed to understand how much damage the announcement of this new rulemaking was doing to the agency’s prospects for advancing its overall greenhouse gas emissions agenda administratively.  In short, EPA fears there will be a coalesces of interests among parties such as the biomass industry,  the coal industry, the utility industry and others to put together enough votes in Congress to strip EPA of the authority to regulate CO2.

This is a double edged sword for EPA.  One set of its supporters believe biomass is more like bottled water—an increasingly politically incorrect renewable energy source because burning woody biomass to produce energy releases more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels according to a study by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

The Manomet study was commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources set off a firestorm of criticism from the biomass industry which accused EPA of terminally linking biomass and fossil fuels in proposed rulemaking on greenhouse gas emissions.

“This has been a multi-front effort to rightfully decouple biomass from fossil-fuel emissions, which EPA unilaterally joined at the hip early last year. This joining at the hip was, in our humble opinion, an unscientific and agendaed maneuver, which ignored EPA’s own metrics and disregarded the overwhelming wealth of established science. We are very pleased; it was exactly what we called for. We applaud EPA and hope that it refers back to the existing peer-reviewed science instead of fishing for a new `agendaed answer’ at taxpayer expense,”—Michael Brower, senior federal policy director at Mosaic Federal Affairs and spokesman for American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and its Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC).

Even Manomet Center was feeling the waste heat from this issue releasing a statement saying its report’s conclusions had been misinterpreted.  The statement says that yes (admission) the report finds hat biomass emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels but (a thousand mea culpas) it is being misused unless you also consider the mitigation from re-growing the trees from which the biomass is produced which removes carbon from the atmosphere.

So what?

Every energy sources has advantages and disadvantages.  Our national industrial policy toward energy to anoint some energy sources as better than others risks unintended consequences, a corruption of the scientific method when the real answer does not comport with the desired political correctness, and imposes higher energy costs on both end users and society.

This is why we have markets.  The government should let them work.  The American people support environmental policies that result in cleaner air, water and land, but the US EPA is engaged in a strategy of testing the limits of America’s tolerance for higher prices, Federal intrusion in our lives and business in pursuit of a political agenda living on borrowed time.

But there are two worse outcomes from an administratively pursued policy of regulating what it cannot achieve legislatively.  First, the action creates tremendous business uncertainty about what the rules will be and their impacts encouraging companies to continue to hoard cash rather than spend it to speed economic recovery.  And second, a regulatory regime the public sees as corrupted by politics and the fickleness of political correctness will undermine their confidence in the Federal Government and set back the environmental goals we widely share in the pond scum the process itself creates.

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