Study finds air emissions from biomass facilities could be dramatically improved if so-called loopholes are closed in power plant regulations.

By Zahra Hirji

A new study charges that government regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes that allow wood-burning facilities to spew more toxic emissions in the air than coal-fired power plants.

The findings are refueling a controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and able to qualify for green incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal.

The study, conducted by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants. The contaminants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Biomass plant emissions "could be dramatically improved," said Mary Booth, the study's author who is the director of PFPI, a nonprofit environmental consultancy critical of biomass plants. She pinned the problem on so-called loopholes in federal and state environmental laws, which she said give biomass operators a way out of meeting strict standards.

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