Industry Asks EPA To Reject Petition On Biomass GHG Data In Inventory

Posted: October 7, 2010

The forestry industry is urging EPA to reject an environmental group’s data quality petition that asks the agency to revise its greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory from 1990-2008 to account for emissions from the burning of biomass, which the current inventory does not.

The National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) filed a Sept. 23 response to environmentalists’ petition charging that the environmentalists’ arguments are “entirely without merit” and that the agency’s methodology for tallying biomass GHG emissions in the inventory, which focuses solely on emissions from land-use changes, is sound because to include both land-use changes and biomass burning would result in “double counting” against the sector.

The group also reiterates its arguments that EPA should exempt biomass from first-time Clean Air Act GHG permitting requirements. A source with NAFO argues that the agency’s GHG inventory and permitting requirements are closely linked and must be consistent.

NAFO was responding to a July 28 petition filed by the the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) under the Data Quality Act (DQA). CBD’s petition asked EPA to revise its GHG inventory because it does not count biomass combustion toward its calculation of total national GHG emissions, but rather measures biomass emissions in terms of land-use changes, such as cutting down forests. CBD says EPA’s methodology is “unsupported by credible science,” and adds that “EPA’s blanket assumption regarding the carbon-neutrality of biogenic energy sources ignores important fuel- and source-specific variation and contradicts numerous recent scientific studies,” according to the petition.

The data law generally requires EPA and other agencies to ensure that scientific and other data used to develop policy stances are objective, reproducible and peer-reviewed. The law requires agencies to accept and respond to petitions to correct allegedly flawed data used in rulemakings and other decisions.

But key federal courts have so far held that the agency responses to DQA petitions are not judicially reviewable, eliminating an enforcement mechanism for private parties to pursue challenges if agencies deny their petitions, a move that significantly slowed industry efforts to use the law to challenge agency data.

CBD’s petition is particularly unusual in that environmentalists have generally refrained from using the law’s authorities to challenge agency data.

NAFO Opposes CBD’s Petition

But NAFO is asking EPA to reject the claim in an unusual “response,” saying CBD’s petition lacks merit and that the inventory’s current “treatment of emissions from biomass combustion is accurate, reliable, and based upon sound science,” according to the group’s Sept. 23 filing.

“It is well established that carbon dioxide emitted in the combustion of forest biomass -- unlike conventional fossil fuels -- comes from carbon dioxide that was recently sequestered from the air by the forest, thus resulting in a ‘carbon neutral’ cycle,” the group says. Moreover, “Lifecycle analyses further demonstrate that biomass energy provides a more favorable GHG profile than energy produced from the combustion of fossil fuels,” NAFO argues.

A NAFO source adds that because EPA already counts biomass emissions from timber harvesting and other land-based activities, its additional consideration of biomass combustion would mean bioenergy’s emissions would be counted twice.

The battle over the data quality petition highlights the challenges EPA is facing to address biomass GHGs. EPA in its final Clean Air Act rule to “tailor” GHG permit limits at stationary sources included biomass emissions, despite at first proposing to exempt them. Industry and others charged that the rule will stifle the renewable energy industry and runs counter to the Obama administration’s goal of promoting renewable energy.

In response, EPA in July issued a “call for information” soliciting opinions on how to address GHGs from biomass and other bio-based fuels.

NAFO in its petition response included its comments on the call for information, which echo industry objections to the treatment of biomass in the tailoring rule. The NAFO source says the comments were included to reiterate how EPA should count biomass emissions, and that EPA’s GHG inventory policy has ramifications for the tailoring rule since the inventory is “a policy-setting document as much as it’s an inventory.” The source adds that industry wants EPA to “maintain consistency” in its policy.

However, the source says that it is unclear how EPA’s tailoring rule would be legally impacted if CBD’s petition is successful.

EPA declined comment on how it is evaluating responses to its call for information on biomass GHGs but said it is weighing the nearly 800 comments. CBD could not be reached for comment.

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