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Struggle to Define Biomass in Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan

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A reporter for E&E News, Washington, D.C, USA, this past week detailed the Obama administration's proposed Clean Power Plan and how it relates to waste biomass. The author explains that there is some debate about the emissions of burning wood as biomass, with some experts pointing out that it is a good idea to burn byproducts such as sawdust for energy because they would otherwise decay directly into the air and release emissions, regardless.

Also mentioned is the ongoing debate about the use of whole, healthy trees as part of a clean energy plan. One big question looming is whether the EPA, Washington, D.C., USA, will allow the use of whole trees for energy as a way to comply with the nation’s new Clean Power Plan.

Those who support biomass for energy argue that forest thinning (not using whole trees) is beneficial to overall forest growth and should not stress overall forests. And additionally, even whole trees absorb carbon when they grow, so burning this form of wood should be considered carbon-neutral in their opinion.

The implications of EPA determinations of wood based biomass mean different things for the paper industry. On one hand, many paper companies can benefit from EPA regulations that allow them to generate mill power from woody biomass leftovers, as detailed by OTW earlier this year. However, as has been seen in Canada over the past couple of years, a highly intensive use of forests for harvesting biomass for energy has caused lumber prices to rise for the country’s paper producers. 

Agency leaders have hinted that they will accept at least some forms of biomass burning for energy as a way for states to comply with the Clean Power Plan. But for now, it remains unclear how and when the EPA will conclude how big, small, healthy or unhealthy a tree must be for its use as energy to count as "sustainable." More information is available in the full article available online.

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