EPA agrees to revise rule to clarify that biomass used for fuel should not be regulated as hazardous waste; 11 U.S. senators urged EPA for clarity on behalf of pulp, paper mills, other industries that burn wood to produce power

WASHINGTON , October 14, 2011 (press release) – Rule would have negated investment in Maine’s pulp and paper mills

At the urging of U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and ten other senators, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced they have agreed to revise a rule relating to the regulation of biomass and other alternative energy sources used as fuel. The decision is substantially positive for the pulp and paper industry in Maine, which has turned to using wood remnants from the pulp and paper making process to generate clean energy. Senator Snowe expressed serious concern that the rule created unnecessary uncertainty over whether alternative energy would be erroneously redefined as a non-hazardous material and thus subject to regulations that currently apply to facilities that are incinerators that burn waste.

Senator Snowe said:

“I appreciate that EPA has agreed to our request to revise the devastating the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials rule that Maine’s key employers agreed would have negated millions of dollars in alternative energy investments, particularly in our paper mills. Going forward with this revision, I will continue working closely with these companies and their employees to ensure EPA’s final rule ultimately works for Maine’s critical pulp and paper industry while providing the necessary health and safety protections for the public. I am proud that Maine’s key employers are leading the way in shifting to alternative energy sources like biomass and I look forward to reviewing the revised rule later this month to ensure more companies can take advantage of this resource.”

Mark Gardner, CEO of Sappi, asserted, “We greatly appreciate Senator’s Snowe’s leadership and support of the paper industry. The revision to this rule will ensure that companies like Sappi can continue to rely on renewable fuel sources, improve their carbon footprint and operate more efficiently.”

BACKGROUND: On March 21, 2011, the EPA issued final standards that attempted to clarify the definition of non-hazardous solid waste as established under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). While the intent of this rule, commonly referred to as the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials Rule (NHSM Rule), was to provide certainty and protect public health, it has created uncertainty regarding whether the current biomass fuel inputs would be defined as non-hazardous solid-waste rather than fuel, and thus cause the facility to be regulated as an incinerator and therefore subject to additional costs.

In response, Senator Snowe joined Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Patty Murray (D-Washington), and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in an October 9 letter expressing concern for the impact of this rule on businesses and energy consumption.

The Senators wrote, “We have each heard from paper mills and other businesses in our states that the rule as written may force investments to be curtailed and may require companies to replace biomass with fossil fuels, which disrupts the forest-based economy supply chain and detracts from environmental objectives as well. Specifically, one paper company has indicated that, as written, the rule may force the company to negate a $49 million investment which reduces the facility’s carbon emissions through the expanded use of biomass.”

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