Forest biomass is carbon neutral, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said today, announcing a decision that cheered private forest owners but inflamed environmentalists.

“Today’s announcement grants America’s foresters much-needed certainty and clarity with respect to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass,” Pruitt said at a gathering of Georgia forestry leaders. “Managed forests improve air and water quality, while creating valuable jobs and thousands of products that improve our daily lives. This is environmental stewardship in action.”

EPA says forestry biomass promotes carbon sequestration, improves soil and water quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The agency added that the policy is at the core of provisions in the recently passed omnibus spending act. But some groups are speaking against the policy, saying the decision promotes air pollution.

“Biomass is not carbon neutral and never will be. Burning trees for energy will only worsen pollution, exacerbate climate change, and harm public health,” said Sierra Club Climate Policy Director Liz Perera in a statement.

The agency’s biogenic carbon dioxide policy statement calls the approach pragmatic, but states that it “is not a scientific determination.” 

“By short-circuiting a genuine scientific review of the use of forests for fuel, Pruitt is once again rewarding his industry pals,” said Sami Yassa, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This will lead to more destruction of our treasured forests and more dangerous carbon pollution.”

EPA's policy statement indicated the agency would work to conserve forested areas. Its provisions direct EPA, the Energy Department and the Agriculture Department to establish policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source, provided the use of forest biomass for energy production does not cause conversion of forests to non-forest use.”

The announcement gives forestry biofuels an opportunity to join the renewable energy community. It also provides the industry with the certainty it has sought for several years.

“Our industry has been asking for this clarification since 2010. For years, worldwide climate change and renewable energy policies acknowledged that all sustainably-managed biomass energy was ‘carbon neutral.’ We thank the EPA for clearing up ambiguous policies with which the industry has been trying to comply,” American Wood Council President and CEO Robert Glowinski said in a statement.

EPA says use of biomass from managed forests addresses domestic energy needs, while furthering the Trump Administration’s goal of U.S. energy dominance. Forestry stakeholders anticipate the policy will also bolster the industry job market.

“Recognizing that forest biomass in the U.S. provides a carbon-neutral source of renewable energy will encourage landowners to replant trees to keep our forests healthy and intact and provide good-paying jobs well into the future,” said Dave Tenny, CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners.

The agency is currently assessing options for incorporating non-forest biomass as carbon neutral. These considerations are part of EPA’s ongoing review of the Clean Air Act.

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