Trees, Trash and Toxics: survey of U.S. Biomass Energy Sites shows loopholes and harms

On Wednesday, April 2, 2014, PfPI/Partnership for Policy Integrity in Massachusetts released a study by Dr. Mary Booth surveying biomass energy projects operating and proposed across the U.S. The study highlights seven public policy loopholes used to push these polluting facilities forward under the guise of “green energy” and finds that once these sites go online, communities experience worse environmental degradation than they were led to believe.

Trees, Trash and Toxics: How Biomass Energy has Become the New Coal

PfPI’s PNW Regional Press Release:

Pacific Northwest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                          APRIL 2, 2014
Contacts:                                 Mary Booth  (917) 885-2573;
Partnership for Policy Integrity

Gretchen Brewer (360) 774-2115;
Port Townsend Air Watchers

New Report: “Green” Biomass Electricity Plants in Washington and Oregon More Polluting Than Coal

New plants will increase toxic emissions while collecting renewable energy subsidies

Pelham, MA. -  Biomass electricity generation, a heavily subsidized form of “green” energy that relies primarily on the burning of wood, is more polluting and worse for the climate than coal, according to a new analysis of 88 pollution permits for biomass power plants in 25 states.

Trees, Trash, and Toxics: How Biomass Energy Has Become the New Coal, released today and delivered to the EPA by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), concludes that biomass power plants being constructed in the Pacific Northwest are permitted to emit more pollution than comparable coal plants or commercial waste incinerators, even as they are subsidized by state and federal renewable energy dollars.  The report contains detailed information on emissions from three of the biomass plants being constructed in the region, the Biogreen Sustainable Energy plant proposed in La Pine, Oregon, and the Nippon Paper and Port Townsend Paper biomass expansion projects being conducted on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

“The biomass power industry portrays their facilities as ‘clean,’ said Mary Booth, director of PFPI and author of the report.  “But we found that even the newest biomass plants are allowed to pollute more than modern coal- and gas-fired plants, and that pollution from bioenergy is increasingly unregulated.”

The report found that biomass power is given special treatment and held to lax pollution control standards, compared to fossil-fueled power plants.

Biomass plants are dirty because they are markedly inefficient.  Per megawatt-hour, a biomass power plant employing “best available control technology” (BACT) emits more nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide than a modern coal plant of the same size.

Almost half the facilities analyzed, however, avoided using BACT by claiming to be “minor” sources of pollution that skim under the triggering threshold for stricter pollution controls.  Minor source permits are issued by the states and contain none of the protective measures required under federal air pollution permitting.

EPA rules also allow biomass plants to emit more hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) than both coal plants and industrial waste incinerators, including heavy metals and dioxins.  Even with these weak rules, most biomass plants avoid restrictions on the amount of toxic air pollution they can emit by claiming to be minor sources, and permits usually require little testing for proof of actual emissions.  When regulated as a minor source, a facility is not required to meet any limitations on emissions of hazardous air pollutants.

The potential for biomass power plants to emit heavy metals and other air toxics is increasing, because new EPA rules allow burning more demolition debris and other contaminated wastes in biomass power plants, including, EPA says, materials that are as contaminated as coal.  A majority of the facilities reviewed in the report also allowed burning demolition debris and other waste materials, including the Nippon and Port Townsend plants.

Port Townsend Air Watchers was among a number of groups that sued Washington State over the state’s failure to conduct an environmental impact assessment on the Port Townsend plant under a state law that requires such assessments for “energy recovery” facilities that burn solid wastes.  The court denied the group’s suit, arguing that once waste materials are accepted as fuel, they are no longer waste because they have “become a commodity.”

“This is a race to the bottom in regulating polluting industries,” said Gretchen Brewer, Director of Port Townsend Air Watchers.  “By arguing that “waste is not waste,” industries are systematically eliminating safeguards that should protect us from hazardous pollutants emitted by burning waste materials.”

“Lax regulations that allow contaminated wastes to be burned as biomass mean that communities need to protect themselves,” said Mary Booth.  “They can’t count on the air permitting process to ensure that bioenergy pollution is minimized.”

The analysis also found that although wood-burning power plants are often promoted as being good for the climate and carbon neutral, the low efficiency of plants means that they emit almost 50% more CO2 than coal per unit of energy produced.  Current science shows that while emissions of CO2 from biomass burning can theoretically be offset over time by forest regrowth and other means, such offsets typically take several decades to fully compensate for the CO2 emitted during plant operation.  None of the permits analyzed in the report required proof that carbon emissions would be offset.

“Not only do these biomass facilities get to burn trees and waste in the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mary Booth.  “They also increase toxic air pollution, and they get the public to pay for it.”

The report is available at


Seattle: EPA Holds Public Listening Session on “best Clean Air Act approaches” to reduce carbon pollution

Seattle, WA

November 7, 2013
3:00-6:00 pm PST
Henry M. Jackson Federal Building
915 2nd Ave.
Seattle, WA 98104
Point of contact: Caryn Sengupta – (206) 553-1275

We encourage you to attend!

On Thursday November 7, 2013 from 3-6pm in Seattle, the EPA will hold one of its 11 “public listening sessions across the country to solicit ideas and input from the public and stakeholders about the best Clean Air Act approaches to reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants.

“The Clean Air Act gives both EPA and states a role in reducing air pollution from power plants that are already in operation.  The law directs EPA to establish guidelines, which states use to design their own programs to reduce emissions.  Before proposing guidelines, EPA must consider how power plants with a variety of different configurations would be able to reduce carbon pollution in a cost-effective way.

“The feedback from these 11 public listening sessions will play an important role in helping EPA develop smart, cost-effective guidelines that reflect the latest and best information available.  The agency will seek additional public input during the notice and comment period once it issues a proposal by June 2014.” (from the EPA website )

Comment from a correspondent: “Biomass is being offered by the forest industry as an “interim bridge” for power plants to meet the new proposed EPA carbon limits:

As we’ve seen by evaluating data from EPA’s eGGRT (electronic Greenhouse Gas Reporting Tool), the first set of industries in Washington State that were required to submit data reported nearly 32 million metric tons of CO2e emissions (primarily carbon dioxide and methane). However, these facilities are able to report a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions because current EPA rules allow them to simply omit any emissions from wood-based fuels from the calculations without eliminating any CO2 from the air! It’s even worse in the case of pulp and paper mills. The figure is closer to 80%. For instance, Port Townsend Paper reports actual emissions of 32 million metric tons of CO2e, but if the EPA only counts emissions from fossil fuels, 25.5 million metric tons or 82% of their CO2 emissions are definined away — again, without eliminating any CO2 from the air!

We don’t call that cleaning up the air. We call it magical thinking.

Another biomass incinerator catches fire

October 13, 2013 Aurora MO –

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”                                                          – Albert Einstein

“Burning got us into the climate change business and burning cannot get us out!”                                                                                   -Tom Kruzen


Fresh air window was short! PTPC O2 trial “odor” study

The alleged clean air didn’t seem to materialize for more than a few days. But I hope that you opened your windows and breathed deeply then.

Then it was back to reeking as usual and the winds are clocking back to their fall directions which  means more coming over Port Townsend, WA. During September and October 2013, PT Paper is testing a protocol of adding O2 (liquid oxygen) to their wastewater treatment basin (known as the ASB or “aerated stablization basin”) in an attempt to clean up or neutralize the “odor.” (The basin is not a “pond” –  at 35 acres, it’s smack at the mid-size of all lakes in Jefferson County). Will it work? Or, will it merely remove what we can smell and leave what harms us? I certainly don’t know! Here’s Charlie Bermant’s 8/21/2013 article in the PDN:

Semi-tech alert: Much of the odor is mercaptans and other similar chemicals rising up from the ASB. These are chemically similar to the odorants added to natural gas to alert you when that odorless, colorless toxic chemical is present enough to harm or kill you. Some chemists on the citizen review panel are trying to look into the chemistry of the ASB. Failure of the test will be obvious enough; partial or signicant success gets us into the territory to ask is it “fixed, some degree of partial solution, or masked”. Until outcome shows otherwise, I’m willing to keep an open mind and accept that this as an earnest enough effort.

The inside of my nose (still) swells up when the plume comes around. I had nosebleeds a couple of days right around September 9 and a couple of townspeople mentioned that they had had unexplainable nosebleeds around then as well. No nosebleeds for me lately, although inflamed nostrils and the occasional nausea are problematic.

Be sure to report Mill Stink to Ecology’s Mill Stink line at 360-407-7393, whether you smell it strongly or faintly, and especially if it affects you in some way whether health, irritation, discomfort or change of plans. You’ll reach Angie Fritz in the Industrial Section, who is great to work with. One of our members suggests putting the number on speed dial. It works great! Push a button, call Angie, log your odor report, help build the record for Ecology that says yes, the mill’s toxic emissions affect our daily lives and we support fixing it!


For two weeks, from September 9 to 23, 2013, Port Townsend Paper has announced that it is shutting down for annual maintenance.   Which means…..


Do we think that they will NOT be running the equipment while they clean it? Let’s check it out carefully this year. Meanwhile, take this opportunity to make the most of it.

Ride your bike or walk on the Larry Scott Trail — and feel safe breathing. Row, sail or paddle into Port Townsend Bay! Shop at our “gateway” businesses in comfort! Sleep peacefully all night WITH YOUR WINDOWS OPEN!

We hope that we are not remiss in saying —