July 2015
Volume 6, Issue 7

Emission Impossible? Carbon Neutral Biomass Energy
(July 2015)

Biomass Energy and the Carbon Neutral Shell Game

- by Brett Leuenberger, The Biomass Monitor

Who would have ever thought that clean renewable energy could come from a smokestack? And yet, according to our U.S. government and the biomass industry, that's exactly what's happening when you burn trees (biomass) for energy. I don't know about you, but when it comes to renewable energy, I think of wind turbines and solar panels producing clean, emission-free renewable energy.


While the final rulemaking process for biomass emissions is still in review, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released this memo last November from Janet McCabe to industry stakeholders, which endorses most biomass emissions as carbon neutral:
"For waste-derived feedstocks, the EPA intends to propose exempting biogenic CO2 emissions from GHG BACT analyses and anticipates basing that proposal on the rationale that those emissions are likely to have minimal or no net atmospheric contributions of biogenic CO2 emissions, or even reduce such impacts, when compared with an alternate fate of disposal."

Most of us can agree with the fact that we're facing unprecedented global climate change due to our use of fuels that emit greenhouse gases (mainly carbon) into the atmosphere. There are a few possible ways to address this global climate challenge. One way is to vastly reduce or terminate our use of carbon emitting fuel sources by transitioning to emission-free energy sources like wind, solar and tidal. We could expand on that idea by creating hyper-local communities that focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy through the use of micro-grids. That's why the carbon emissions from biomass are so critically important, especially as we look to our future energy and transportation needs and how those choices affect our earth's climate.



White House Rejects Biomass Energy as Carbon Neutral

- by Executive Office of the President of the United States

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 2822, making appropriations for the Department of the Interior, Environment, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes.

The bill drastically underfunds core Department of the Interior programs as well as the Environmental Protection Agency's operating budget, which supports nationwide protection of human health and our vital air, water and land resources.

They would make it harder for States and businesses to plan and execute changes that would decrease carbon pollution and address the challenges the Nation faces from climate change.

Classification of Forest Biomass Fuels as Carbon-Neutral

The Administration objects to the bill's representation of forest biomass as categorically "carbon-neutral." This language conflicts with existing EPA policies on biogenic CO2 and interferes with the position of States that do not
apply the same policies to forest biomass as other renewable fuels like solar or wind. This language stands in contradiction to a wide-ranging consensus on policies and best available science from EPA's own independent Science Advisory Board, numerous technical studies, many States, and various other stakeholders.



Red Rock Biofuel Will Not Be Carbon Neutral

- by Northwest Environmental Defense Center

Below are excerpted comments from Northwest Environmental Defense Center and other groups and individuals opposed to the construction of a biofuel facility in Lakeview, Oregon by Red Rock Biofuel.

Red Rock's proposed facility will not be carbon neutral. Indeed, the facility will emit over 270,000 tons per year of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The fact that Red Rock proposes to use woody biomass or LNG as feedstock should not create a discount for these emissions. "The physics of the greenhouse effect is indifferent as to the origin of the pollutant." Gunn JS, Ganz DJ, and Keeton WS (2012) Biogenic vs. geologic carbon emissions and forest biomass energy production. "[W]hat matters is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, regardless of the source."

The federal government is "encourag[ing] the development and use of alternative fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with aviation and to enhance economic development and energy security for the United States," including "actively supporting alternative jet fuels." U.S. Government Accountability Office, Alternative Jet Fuels (May 2014). That same U.S. Government Accountability Office report also notes that "[t]here is no globally agreed-upon approach, however, for determining the greenhouse gas effects of renewable fuels and the magnitude of any greenhouse gas reductions attributable to their production and use."

In fact, switching from fossil fuels to wood energy could actually result in increased levels of atmospheric GHGs over a period of decades.

Given the threats to public health and the environment posed by GHG emissions, Oregon's policy of addressing climate change, and growing concerns about the impacts of climate change on global warming, DEQ must deny this request for an air permit that will add a major new source of GHG emissions in the state.

The Biomass Monitor is the nation's leading publication covering the health and environmental impacts of "biomass" energy. We accept submissions at thebiomassmonitor AT

Graphics: Brett Leuenberger


Josh Schlossberg, Mike Ewall, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, The Biomass Monitor

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- by Josh Schlossberg, Editor

A major reason behind taxpayer subsidies for "renewable" energy is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, in hopes of preventing the worst of runaway climate change.

Currently, there's only one form of energy subsidized as "renewable" that results in direct carbon emissions into the atmosphere, from not just the construction of the facility, but the energy source itself. And that's bioenergy.

Forests, plants, and other living materials sequester and store carbon, acting as one of the world's most effective (and free) buffers against climate change. When we convert these living organisms into energy, an immediate pulse of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. While some studies conclude that this carbon will be re-sequestered within decades to centuries, others demonstrate a permanent increase in atmospheric CO2.

Even the best-case scenario of a few decades doesn't jive with the insistence of climate scientists that we cut our emissions now, that any reductions in the future will be too little, too late.

Recently, the White House made a statement refuting that forest biomass energy be "categorically" classified as carbon neutral. Now, this doesn't mean they don't think that some forms of biomass energy are, simply that they disagree with classifying all biomass that way.

It's very easy for those working on the issue to argue forever about which kinds of biomass should be considered carbon neutral and which should not. However, there's only one way to accurately account for the actual contributions of bioenergy to climate change, and that includes measuring the carbon dioxide emitted from facility smokestacks.



Top 10 Biomass Stories in the News

Follow The Biomass Monitor on Facebook and Twitter for breaking news on biomass energy.

1. Air Pollution World's Top Environmental Health Risk

2. Wisconsin Biomass Facility Offline for 6 Months

3. Oregon Declares Biomass Carbon Neutral

4. Louisville, KY Councilor: We Won't Let Biofuel Facility Be Built

5. Duke Energy to Burn Swine Waste in Natural Gas Facilities, Call it Renewable

6. Minnesota Biofuels Facility Closed After Explosion; Two Injured

7. Residential Heating and Biomass Power Consumed Nearly Same Amount of BTU in 2013

8. Orangetown, NY Holds Hearing to Prohibit Biomass Gasification and Biochemicals

9. Ohio Incinerator Operator to Pay $34,000 for Ash Malfunction

10. Dozens Injured in Chinese Protest Against Trash Incinerator



Is Biomass and Trash Incineration Zero Waste?

Should burning materials that can be recycled or composted count as Zero Waste? The "waste-to-energy" industry claims incineration is compatible, while the Zero Waste International Alliance says no. What do you think?

Join The Biomass Monitor on Thursday, July 16 at 5 pm PT (8 ET) where we speak with Ananda Tan, of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), and Mike Ewall, director of Energy Justice Network, to get the counterpoint to industry claims on Zero Waste and incineration.

RSVP by emailing thebiomassmonitor at for call in number.

Calls are 3rd Thursdays of each month. 

Download the audio file for June's call, "Honoring the Environmental Movement's Fallen Heroes."