EPA Loopholes Allow Biomass Facilities to Create more Toxic Pollution than Coal

Monday, April 14, 2014
Polaniec biomass power plant in Poland (photo: GDF Suez)

One of the biggest alternative energy sources in the United States has been accused of being just as polluting to the environment, if not more so, as coal, according to a new study.


Biomass plants, which burn wood waste to produce electricity, are producing more toxic emissions than coal-fired plants, thanks to federal regulatory loopholes, says Mary Booth, director of Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), a nonprofit environmental organization. In her report, Booth says biomass facilities produce 50% more carbon dioxide than coal plants.


“Even the ‘cleanest’ biomass plants,” she claims, can emit more than 150% the nitrogen oxides, 600% the volatile organic compounds, 190% the particulate matter, and 125% the carbon monoxide of a coal plant per megawatt-hour.


Booth pins the blame on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allowing numerous loopholes in federal pollution rules that have permitted biomass to get away with spewing so much pollution into the atmosphere.


For instance, coal plants that emit 100 tons of a pollutant each year are required to obtain Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits that mandate EPA oversight, among other things. But biomass plants are allowed to produce 250 tons of a pollutant before the same permit requirement kicks in for them. “We're talking about the same pollution, the same health effects, but biomass plants get to emit two and a half times as much,” Booth said.


The Biomass Power Association (BPA), which represents the industry, rejected Booth’s findings, calling her report an “81-page editorial.”


The report “showcases a fundamental misunderstanding of the science surrounding forestry and biomass, and a lack of familiarity with the state and federal laws governing energy and the environment,” BPA said in a press release.


Many environmental groups backed Booth’s report, including Clean Air Task Force, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Greenpeace, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Southern Environmental Law Center, according to Inside Climate News.


Biomass is the third-largest renewable energy source in the nation behind wind and hydropower.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

EPA Loopholes Allow Biomass to Emit More Toxic Air Pollutants Than Coal, Study Says (by Zahra Hirji, Inside Climate News)

Trees, Trash, and Toxics: How Biomass Energy Has Become the New Coal (by Mary S. Booth, Partnership for Policy Integrity)

Biomass Power Association Addresses Inaccurate Report (Biomass Power Association)

EPA Pushed Oil Companies to Pay for Non-Existent Biofuel Additive (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Why are Georgia and North Carolina Selling their Forests to Create Energy in Europe and the UK? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


Mack 10 years ago
PFPI hints at being a “nonprofit” but this group is not registered with the State Of Massachusetts nor are there any filings of the IRS Form 990 on record. Who is financing PFPI? Is this group funded by corporate sources in order to shift sentiment on power generation from renewable biomass back to coal or hydro-fracked gas? One sister organization that found this report 'useful' is the nonprofit “Center for Biological Diversity”, which makes money by suing the federal government. For instant, in 2009 the Center reported income of $1,173,517 in “legal settlement.” Is PFPI also thinking of suing the EPA to extract money from the taxpayer?
Mike Leonard, Consulting Forester 10 years ago
I appreciate the Biomass Power Association pointing out the disinformation put out by the PFPI report. Increasing markets for forest biomass has been great for my forestry business and my landowner clients. While some talk about a mythical “carbon debt “in order to cripple the forestry sector, the real debt is the silvicultural debt. Much of private forest land is unmanaged or mismanaged because of a dearth of low grade timber markets. But increasing markets for biomass can provide the markets we need to practice great forestry. For more info see my web site: http://northquabbinforestry.com/2010/12/14/forest-biomass-markets-promote-great-forestry/ and check out my highly acclaimed forestry photo albums: https://www.facebook.com/MikeLeonardConsultingForester/photos_albums?ref=hl
Mary S Booth 10 years ago
Our rebuttal of the Biomass Power Association’s critique of the PFPI report (in which they compare us, hilariously, to vaccine opponents) is at http://www.pfpi.net/pfpi-response-to-biomass-power-association-and-a-challenge-lets-debate-biomass-power-in-public We have challenged them to debate the merits of bioenergy publicly, but are still awaiting a response. Mary Booth, Director Partnership for Policy Integrity

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