[NEWS] Senate Passes “Carbon Neutral” Biomass Energy Bill
– by Alejandro Davila Fragoso, April 20, 2016, Think Progress
The first major update to the nation’s energy policy in eight years passed the Senate Wednesday with bipartisan support, as it concentrates on common ground topics like infrastructure improvements, cyber security, and energy efficiency. Yet an amendment in the bill — dubbed the Energy Policy Modernization Act — that would classify biomass as carbon neutral has angered dozens of environmental organizations, who say it puts forests at risk.
Environmentalists had for months questioned an amendment from senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) instructing agencies to develop policies that “reflect the carbon neutrality” of biomass, a source of energy that includes trees and other plants. On Tuesday, more than 75 organizations sent a letter to the bill co-sponsors, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), voicing their opposition to the bill because of its “dangerous” biomass provisions.
“This is a really horrible precedent,” said Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Program Director Benjamin Schreiber, in an email to ThinkProgress. “What is next, will they pass a bill telling government scientists that they must deem coal carbon free?”
Bioenergy is energy contained in living or recently living organisms. Plants get bioenergy through photosynthesis, and animals get it through plants. To use biomass energy, humans have mostly turned to slashing forests and burning trees in a process that, like coal burning, releases harmful carbon pollution that causes global warming. However, the renewable nature of plants and their capacity to sequester carbon has motivated industry and some lawmakers to consider biomass a carbon neutral source of energy.
What is next, will they pass a bill telling government scientists that they must deem coal carbon free?
This presumed carbon neutrality of biomass has worried environmentalists for years because neutrality — though plausible — depends on many factors, including the definition of carbon neutrality, feedstock type, burning time frame, and the technology used. The issue has been so controversial that the Environmental Protection Agency has been working on rules to quantify biomass carbon emissions from power plants using this energy source. A decision is reportedly expected later this year.
Environmentalists have long said the amendment interferes with the EPA’s efforts, as it tells agencies to create policies reflecting the carbon neutrality of bioenergy. They also argue that it incentivizes cutting forests for energy, and undoes provisions of the Clean Power Plan that call for reductions in carbon emissions from the electricity sector through increased use of renewable sources.
But environmentalists oppose the energy bill on other provisions, too.