The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release


Federal Court Strikes Down EPA's Biomass Emissions Loophole

NRCM, others brought this lawsuit to federal court


Today, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit handed down a decision that confirmed the science does not justify categorically exempting industrial facilities burning biomass, including tree-burning power plants, from Clean Air Act limits on carbon dioxide pollution. The decision struck down an exemption for "biogenic carbon dioxide" issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011. The case, Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, considered whether EPA's exemption from otherwise applicable permitting and control requirements for newly constructed industrial facilities burning biomass was legally permissible.

Statement of NRCM Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhees:

"We are very pleased that the court agreed with us today that the EPA must require power plants burning biomass to control their global warming pollution. This is good news for addressing climate change and good news for relying on science in our nation's clean air policies. The decision will help ensure that investments in clean energy go to clean energy sources, while protecting the forests we love and depend on.

"NRCM opposed the EPA's decision to simply ignore climate emissions from biomass because the simple fact is, burning biomass emits a significant amount of carbon pollution. It's true that some of it may ultimately be re-absorbed by trees in future years, but determining how much is complex. That's why we need the EPA to set forth rules to evaluate biomass emissions, not ignore them.

"The problem of climate change is too serious to ignore, and it is essential that our policies be based on sound science. Climate scientists around the world have expressed significant concern about this "biomass loophole" and we hope the EPA will now get to work on a solution.

"We also continue to strongly support the work of the EPA to limit global warming pollution from power plants--and we eagerly await new standards for new and existing power plants, announced by the President last month.

"Today's ruling once again upholds EPA's authority to regulate climate change pollution and is grounded in an understanding that the science shows biomass fuels, including tree-burning, can make climate disruption worse," said Ann Weeks, the Legal Director of the Clean Air Task Force, who argued the case for the Petitioners and appeared on behalf of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and CLF. "The Court clearly noted that the atmosphere can't tell the difference between fossil fuel carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide emitted by burning trees."


Emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities that burn biomass can accelerate global warming and contribute to a host of respiratory and cardiac problems. Biomass-fueled power plants directly emit significantly more CO2 per kilowatt produced than power plants that burn fossil fuels--even coal--and it can take decades before that excess CO2 is "re-sequestered" by subsequent plant growth. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities that are required to control their CO2 emissions must also control any "significant" emissions of other regulated pollutants, so the Court's decision also means that communities near these plants will benefit from reductions in pollution that causes asthma and other health problems.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine is the leading nonprofit membership organization working statewide for clean air and water; healthy people, wildlife and forests; and clean energy solutions. NRCM harnesses the power of science, the law, and the voices of more than 12,000 supporters to protect the nature of Maine. Visit NRCM online at