Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pulp Fiction:  Wood Burning May Play Big Role in EPA’s New Rules

As the world tries to shift away from fossil fuels, the energy industry is turning to what seems to be an endless supply of renewable energy: wood.  In England and across Europe, wood has become the renewable of choice, with forests — many of them in the U.S. — being razed to help feed surging demand.  But as this five-month Climate Central investigation reveals, renewable energy doesn’t necessarily mean clean energy.  Burning trees as fuel in power plants is heating the atmosphere more quickly than coal.

Burning pellets (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Even when it helps the climate, wood energy isn’t all forest restoration and atmospheric rainbows.  Like fossil fuels, wood energy is dirty energy.  Burning wood releases pollution that creates haze and ozone, triggering emphysema and asthma attacks.  That’s why some local air quality districts ban residents from using fireplaces on the smoggiest days.  Waste wood may also have been treated with pesticides, paint and other poisons, which can be released as air pollution when burned.

Wood energy’s pollution, combined with its climate impacts and its potential to contribute to deforestation, has seeded deep opposition to it in the U.S.

When Oregon lawmakers were debating a bill that would eventually declare wood energy to be carbon neutral, the Sierra Club’s state chapter testified in opposition.  Scientifically, the legislation was “deeply flawed,” the group pointed out, warning it could accelerate climate change and sully the air.

Power plant owners can take costly steps to reduce air pollution, but those that burn wood have fewer regulatory requirements than those burning fossil fuels.  Among other differences, wood-burning power plants can release more than twice as much pollution as coal or gas plants before they’re affected by federal clean air rules.
The potential role wood energy could play under the Clean Power Plan won’t become clear until the EPA begins assessing state plans, which are due next year.  States could receive extensions for two years beyond that.  Meanwhile, the agency is consulting with its panel of scientists and calling for public comment as it tries to hone its approach to regulating pollution from wood energy.
By potentially deferring to the judgment of Oregon, Virginia and other states, the federal government risks allowing harmful types of wood energy to be counted as clean.  Momentum toward tackling global warming is growing stronger around the world, led in part by the U.S., which is striving to be a leader on climate action.  Any mistakes now by the EPA threaten to entrench the European approach and entice other countries to follow, undermining global efforts to tackle climate change.

Read more  at Pulp Fiction:  Wood Burning May Play Big Role in EPA’s New Rules

1 comment:

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