The Senate recently passed the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act (S.2012) cosponsored by Senators Murkowski and Cantwell. One aspect of the bill that is creating controversy revolves around provisions characterizing biomass as a renewable, carbon-neutral energy source. This new, definitive characterization has sparked significant disagreement.
Proponents argue that the carbon emitted from biomass is part of a closed-loop system through which plant regrowth captures CO2 emissions. The Biomass Thermal Energy Council expressed its support of the carbon-neutral designation in the legislation, indicating that the bill puts “clean, highly efficient energy from biomass on a better footing to contribute to our country’s renewable energy and carbon reduction needs.” The biomass industry believes the bill provides a newfound clarity for the role of biomass in the renewable energy realm by instructing the federal agencies primarily responsible for promulgating the country’s energy and environmental regulations to consider biomass as renewable.
Opponents of the carbon-neutral designation claim that the biomass process, cradle-to-grave, generates CO2 emissions that are comparable to burning fossil fuels. Many representatives in the scientific and environmental communities are working to have these provisions removed in the House-Senate Conference on the bill. They assert that the time-lapse between burning trees and releasing carbon dioxide today, versus the decades it takes to grow new ones, supports the argument that forest biomass is not carbon-neutral. The New York Times, a coalition of scientists and a number of environmental organizations expressed opposition to the bill as a whole, mainly due to the proposed biomass, carbon-neutral provisions.