A new EPA ruling that is supposed to reduce carbon emissions, the Tailoring Rule, may in fact increase emissions instead. The ruling regulates carbon dioxide emissions under equal standing, but not all net emissions are equal.
Fuel sources from deep in the earth, such as coal and natural gas, produce a one-way flow of carbon to the atmosphere when considering a human time frame. In contrast, energy created from biomass, such as burning small woody debris, results in net negative emissions. The forest recycles (if you will) the carbon. Growing trees removes carbon from the atmosphere storing it within their mass. Managing forests through planting, thinning, and removal of woody debris can enhance forest growth, which also increases carbon sequestration. Forest products retain the carbon. Energy created from burning biomass emits carbon dioxide, returning it to the atmosphere. The amount emitted from burning woody debris, however, is balanced by the amount sequestered in its growth. In this way, the biomass energy has a two way flow of carbon. It reduces carbon when growing and re-emits it into the atmosphere when burned.
Seeing the forest through the trees, biomass energy that displaces fossil energy reduces net emissions. Yet, the EPA rule treats all emissions equal giving biofuels a relative disadvantage even though they may reduce overall emissions. The unintended consequences of the EPA ruling will likely result in an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions. A result that is the exact opposite of the ruling's stated intentions.
UPDATE 1/17/11: The EPA has postponed the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions on biomass burning for at least three years. This will provide the agency with time to analyze the science and evaluate the potential unintended consequences of its regulations.
Originally posted at Environmental Trends