Biomass and the Carbon Fee

Biomass and the Carbon Fee Laser Talk

Question:  Should biomass carbon be subject to the carbon fee?

Answer:  Scientifically speaking, it should not, because unlike fossil fuels, biomass is part of the living world’s carbon cycle. Plants use CO2 from the atmosphere to make biomass, and when they die, they decompose over time, returning most of their CO2 back to the environment. [1] As long as biomass isn’t used in ways that emit more CO2 than natural degradation would, the carbon contained in the biomass is carbon-neutral.

In the U.S., most ‘biofuel’ is corn-based ethanol which has only a limited climate benefit. [2] But there are bioenergy technologies beyond corn ethanol that can use farm and forest residues and energy crops more sustainably. These include advanced biofuels methods [3] that could reduce fossil CO2 from transportation – aircraft, ships, and millions of existing gasoline or diesel vehicles – by 60 to 90 percent. [4] Others foresee the potential replacement of natural gas in America’s pipelines with renewable biomethane. [5]

Furthermore, under the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, fossil energy used in many stages of the biomass supply chain – e.g., fertilizer manufacture, electricity, transportation fuels – will be subject to the carbon fee, and thus those carbon costs will be reflected in the product price.

There are legitimate concerns that a carbon fee could unintentionally lead to land use practices that harm biodiversity or habitat protection. For that reason, H.R.2307 mandates that the National Academy of Sciences study and report on the environmental impacts of bioenergy within 10 years of the enactment of the bill.

Without some role for bioenergy, decarbonization of our energy systems would be far slower and more difficult. CCL supports the exclusion of sustainably sourced biomass from the carbon fee,  but is also committed to ensuring that the policy does not encourage unsustainable or ecologically harmful use of biomass resources.

In a Nutshell: Biofuels do consume some fossil fuels in their production, and those fossil inputs will be subject to the carbon fee. However, the bio-based carbon itself is not taxed because it’s part of the short-term natural carbon cycle. Sustainably sourced bioenergy could play a critical role in decarbonizing transportation sectors where reducing emissions in other ways is not technically feasible.

  1. “Terrestrial biological carbon cycle.” Wikipedia (17 Sep 2017).
  2. Jandeska, K. “Corn ethanol reduces carbon footprint, greenhouse gases.” Phys.org (24 May 2021).
  3. “Biofuels Basics.” U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (28 Mar 2019).
  4. Green, D.L. and G. Parkhurst. Appendix A: White Paper. In “Decarbonizing Transport for a Sustainable Future, Summary of the Fifth EU-U.S. Transportation Research Symposium.” pp. 30-60 (17-18 May 2017).
  5. Ady, M. “Why biomethane is set to become a new normal.” Energy Central (20 Feb 2019).

This page was updated on 05/24/21 at 20:24 CDT.

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