The Obama Administration's top environmental regulator, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, was in New Hampshire today promoting the use of wood as a fuel. McCarthy took a tour of sawmill in Middleton that burns leftover wood scraps to generate electricity and to heat its facility.
McCarthy says that burning wood for electricity can be an important part of a low-carbon future, but under the President's new Clean Power Plan -- which mandates a 32 percent reduction in emissions nationwide from 2005 levels by 2030 -- only energy from biomass harvested using sustainable forestry practices will count as carbon neutral when calculating state emissions.
"States like New Hampshire have had centuries of understanding what sustainable forestry really means, and we want to make sure that EPA learns from that and encourages the use of appropriate biomass in state plans going forward," she said in an interview after the event. McCarthy said that today the EPA has announced it would host a workshop to discuss with states what it will consider sustainable harvesting practices, so that states would know how to submit an "approvable" plan for designating biomass that qualifies as carbon neutral. "It will be a delicate balance, but the important thing is for us is to allow state flexibility," McCarthy explained. Under the Clean Power Plan, state's would get credit for reducing carbon emissions if power plants decide to "co-fire" coal and some sort of biomass fuel. In a contribution to an industry magazine, Bob Cleaves, President of the biomass power association, says that only power plants built in 2013 or later can be used as part of the state's carbon reduction plan. Wood pellets and wood chips burned for heating do not fall under the carbon rules.