Biomass and CO2: A fiasco

The Best of Oregon Editorials:
Hasso Herring, Democrat Herald, 6/20

Members of Congress are getting a well-deserved taste of what it means to let carbon dioxide be regulated by a federal agency that is out of control. The Environmental Protection Agency decided last year that it had the power to regulate the emissions of CO2 under the Clean Air Act. This was an alarming decision because it put a federal agency in charge of regulating and controlling every important facet of the country’s economic life.

Senators interested in preserving at least some degree of American freedom tried to pass a resolution barring the EPA from doing what it was doing. But Democrats defeated the resolution in the Senate on June 11.

Then, on Wednesday, all Oregon members of House along with about 57 other representatives sent a protest letter to the EPA. They were complaining that in regulating CO2, the EPA had reversed itself and now intends to cover emissions from so-called biomass facilities.

That’s a fancy term for boilers that burn wood chips and sawdust. Such facilities, with scrubbers to keep the air clean, have been promoted as ways to improve our energy situation and also help restore the health of the national forests while stoking the rural economy near those forests, such as in Linn and Benton counties.

If the EPA regulates those places the same as generating plants burning fossil fuels, biomass plants would be harder to bring about. The whole idea of biomass would become suspect if they are in the same pollution class as a plant that burns, say, sulfurous coal.

“Recycling wood waste from our national forests to produce local, clean energy and create rural jobs is a no-brainer,” said Congressman Peter DeFazio. “But these efforts have been undermined by pressure from misguided environmental groups on EPA to classify renewable biomass as a pollutant on a par with dirty coal. We should be working to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, developing renewable energy, and improving forest health. Biomass is critical to accomplishing all three of these goals.”

Congressman Greg Walden of Eastern Oregon called the EPA’s decision “an absurd effort to stop the development of clean and renewable woody biomass energy.”

Of course it’s absurd, but so is the very notion that the EPA should regulate CO2, the gas we breathe out every few seconds, as a pollutant that qualifies for federal regulation and control.

We know that regulation moves only in one direction. Like a ratchet, it turns only one way, in the direction of always more regulation and always a little less freedom.

If the EPA can control biomass burners as CO2 producers, there is no logical reason it cannot regulate – and perhaps prohibit or tax with heavy air pollution fees – the installation of home fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.

Let’s hope that with the biomass fiasco, both and House and Senate will have second thoughts and prohibit the EPA from going ahead. (hh)

Hasso Herring, Democrat Herald, 6/20

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