In the meantime — as the agency considers the future of biomass energy policy in the nation — it gave the industry the greenlight to use biomass at coal burning and other fossil-powered facilities to control pollution, a designation known as "Best Available Control Technology."
Sheehan called the idea of burning woody material to clean-up coal "ironic."
"The science already shows that for greenhouse gases, biomass is dirtier than coal," she said.
Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, agreed: "The EPA’s Orwellian suggestion that biomass pollution is a form of pollution control makes it look like the agency has already made up its mind to ignore the science."
BPA, which represents 80 biomass power plants, said the decision to qualify biomass as BACT "is really helpful."
"I would be absolutely shocked if EPA three years from now, says 'We've actually reconsidered the science,'" Cleaves said.
Coal Instead of Trees?
Industry fears that if biomass emissions were regulated under the tailoring rule, power producers would be encouraged to burn more coal instead, at a time when the nation is grappling with downsizing its carbon ouput during a time of record-breaking temperature increases.
"Obviously fossil fuels are a more efficient energy source, and if you layer on too many regulations ... utilities and other producers are going to lean toward fossil fuel use," Whiting said.
A recent study out of the University of Washington supported that point of view. Called , a compilation of previous research, the study concluded that "new investment in bioenergy development will be discouraged and existing biofuel facilities may be motivated to shut down or use more fossil fuels."
The resource is seen as a particularly valuable in Southern states, which lack wind and solar opportunities available in other states.
For Sheehan and other advocates, the game plan now is to try to put the industry a freeze on growth of the industry until 2014.
"We will be calling for a moratorium on all permitting for biomass plants during this three-year period," she said.
Cleaves of BPA said "the idea of a moratorium has no basis in law" under the Clean Air Act, which "certainly doesn't prohibit biomass plants from being constructed."
"To the contrary," he said, "I think every government out there is encouraging biomass."