Lawmakers are once again pushing U.S. EPA and other federal agencies to recognize the burning of biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source. But scientists say that could be a bad move for the climate.
A massive fiscal 2018 federal spending bill unveiled by congressional leaders Wednesday night includes a provision urging the heads of EPA, the Energy Department and the Agriculture Department to adopt policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source.”
The language has appeared in similar forms in previous spending bills the last few years, due to pressure from lawmakers in forest-heavy states. This latest version follows recent comments by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declaring biomass a carbon-neutral energy source. He has billed the change as part of the administration’s broader efforts at “energy dominance.”
In a letter to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) last month, Pruitt stated the agency’s decision was partly in response to concerns articulated by the forest and forest products industry (Climatewire, Feb. 14).
But scientists have been expressing concern for years about the emissions produced by burning biomass. Many experts suggest that declaring wood burning a carbon-neutral form of energy is not only inaccurate, but a potential step backward for global climate change mitigation efforts.
RENEWABLE, YES. BUT CARBON NEUTRAL?
William Schlesinger, a biogeochemist and former president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, was among the latest to weigh in with commentary published in Science yesterday. He said that “recent evidence shows that the use of wood as fuel is likely to result in net CO2 emissions.”
Biomass is technically a “renewable” energy source, in that trees can be replanted after they’re harvested. And some lawmakers have argued that because trees store carbon as they grow, replacement forests will gradually remove the carbon dioxide emitted when the previous trees were burned for energy, making the whole process carbon neutral—that is, putting no net emissions into the atmosphere.
But there are some serious flaws in that argument, many scientists suggest. One of the biggest issues is the matter of timing…https://www.scientificamerican.com