Biomass and the Carbon Fee Laser Talk

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

Answer:  No, 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, returning most of their carbon – and their energy – back to the atmosphere. [1] If biomass energy can be used without releasing more CO2 than would occur under natural processes, the carbon contained in the biomass can be carbon-neutral.

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

Some proposals tax biomass carbon, but then apply a ‘life cycle analysis’ to avoid double taxation. H.R.763 takes a simpler approach, where fossil fuels used in various stages of the biomass supply chain – e.g., fertilizer manufacture, electricity, and shipping – are already subject to the carbon fee, thus embedding those carbon costs in the energy price without the necessity of life cycle analysis.

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.763 requires the National Academy of Sciences to study and report on the environmental impacts of bioenergy within 10 years of enactment.

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

  1. “Terrestrial biological carbon cycle.” Wikipedia (17 Sep 2017).
  2. “Ethanol Vehicle Emissions.” U.S. Dept of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center (26 Mar 2018).
  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 03/05/20 at 23:06 CST.

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