Rules for greenhouse gases are Congress’ responsibility

Posted June 11, 2010, at 11:01 p.m.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent release of the “Tailoring Rule” for greenhouse gases undermines renewable energy from biomass, harms rural Maine communities and puts American jobs at risk. This is why I strongly support Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe’s decision to support the Murkowski resolution disapproving EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Although the resolution did not pass, the closeness of votes indicates that there are serious concerns regarding the EPA regulating greenhouse gas. The EPA’s action hurts rural communities by endangering family wage American jobs in towns like Lincoln, and reversing economic development in communities that need it the most.

We are deeply disappointed the EPA failed to reaffirm its own precedent and the internationally recognized carbon neutrality of biomass. The EPA would treat biomass fuels identically to fossil fuels, in effect undermining the administration’s support for renewable energy policy in this country.

The forest products industry, including our mill in Lincoln, has dramatically reduced the use of fossil fuel by increasing the use of domestically grown, renewable and carbon-neutral biomass to power our mill. This is critical for an economically and environmentally sustainable future.

Biomass is the renewable fuel that forest products facilities use, on average, for two-thirds of their energy needs, as an alternative to fossil fuels. Emissions from the combustion of biomass historically have not been included in greenhouse gas reduction policies because biomass combustion does not increase carbon in the atmosphere when the overall biomass stock is renewed.

When biomass is burned for energy, it releases carbon dioxide that was captured from the atmosphere when the biomass was growing. Trees are replanted and this carbon is reabsorbed, repeating the cycle.

EPA’s own data show that the biomass carbon cycle in the U.S. removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits. This rule undermines this important, globally recognized precedent and jeopardizes public and private investment in biomass-based renewable energy, which is fundamental to existing and future green jobs in rural communities hit hard by the economic downturn.

EPA’s proposed implementation of the tailoring rule would result in regulation of biomass-burning pulp and paper mills and energy plants as carbon emitters while allowing the same wood biomass to be shipped to Europe in the form of pellets for energy generation, where biomass is recognized as carbon-neutral. The outcome would be fewer good jobs in Maine, forests harvested to supply energy to Europe and our paper and tissue products imported from China and Indonesia where no greenhouse gas regulations exist.

This rule is the clearest example of why the Clean Air Act is the wrong tool to regulate greenhouse gases. New investment in manufacturing and clean energy technologies runs counter to the arcane and rigid set of rules and regulations that are being triggered by the use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. These rules have developed around localized pollutants and are not well-suited to address the global realities of greenhouse gases.

Congress, not the EPA, is in the best position to make the trade-offs that will be needed to ensure future global competitiveness for the forests products industry and other energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries that employ millions of hardworking Americans and contribute to our nation’s economic well-being.

Keith Van Scotter is the CEO of Lincoln Paper and Tissue.

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