California Lawsuit Seeks Pollution Cuts From Massive Tree-burning Power Plant

- by Kevin Bundy, August 22, 2014, Center for Biological Diversity

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"139","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 200px; height: 199px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging a Clean Air Act permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency for a massive, 31-megawatt biomass power plant proposed by Sierra Pacific Industries in Anderson, Calif. The challenge, filed directly in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, charges the EPA with failing to control climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution from the plant.

“Tree-burning power plants foul the air, damage the climate, and threaten our forests,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “For too long the EPA has acted as if carbon pollution from biomass doesn’t exist. But you can’t fool the atmosphere. Carbon from burning trees still warms the climate.”

The Clean Air Act requires the “best available control technology” for carbon pollution from large facilities like the Anderson plant. The EPA’s permit, however, treated biomass combustion itself as a “control technology” — even though the facility is primarily designed to burn biomass.

“The EPA’s decision makes no sense,” Bundy said. “You can’t control the pollution from burning trees by burning trees, any more than you can control the pollution from burning coal by burning coal.”

The EPA’s permit also failed to consider whether the facility should be limited to less carbon-intensive fuels — such as amply available mill waste — rather than being allowed to burn whole trees.

Burning wood for power releases about three times as much carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour as natural gas and is even more carbon-intensive than coal. Depending on the material, biomass power generation can increase atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations for decades or centuries compared to what otherwise would have happened to the material.

Burning whole trees that otherwise would have been left to grow in the forest, for example, can increase climate pollution for many years, even if the power generated replaces reliance on fossil fuels.

“Biomass is touted as a clean, green and renewable source of energy, but the reality on the ground and in the air is different,” Bundy said. “The EPA can’t give these inefficient, dirty facilities a free pass on carbon pollution.”

The case is titled Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA. The Center is represented by attorneys Kevin Bundy and Brendan Cummings.