Energy. Environment. Economy.

Pa.’s Biomass Burners Harm Air Quality Near Schools, Study Shows

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Cut wood lies in a pile at a bioenergy plant in Germany.

Biomass refers to any kind of organic material that is burned for energy. Wood, garbage, crops, manure and landfill gas are all examples of biomass fuel. Proponents say biomass is renewable because more trees and crops can be planted, and humans will never stop producing garbage.

But a new report out this week by the Partnership for Policy Integrity, and funded by the Heinz Foundation, says burning biomass creates harmful air pollution. The report criticizes Pennsylvania’s support for biomass burners to power schools. The Partnerships director, Mary Booth, conducted the study.

“Despite the popular image of wood-burning biomass as ‘clean’ and ‘green,’” said Booth in a release, “these burners emit far more pollution, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and ozone-forming nitrogen oxides, than oil and gas burners.”

The study shows that some of these biomass burners are in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards. Both federal and state grants and loans targeted for renewable energy helped fund those facilities.


  • Tom Gillilan

    “Both federal and state grants and loans targeted for renewable energy helped fund those facilities.”

    Proves that clueless misfits and morons are in charge of air quality and government not only in Pennsylvania, but across the entire USA.

  • Charles Ashley

    Actually, Mary Booth’s “study” is an outlier. The main flaw in Booth’s argument is her claim that biomass consists of large, mature trees that take a century to grow. In fact, it takes only 7-15 years for forest growth to repay the carbon debt because most biomass harvested to feed biomass plants is small, young trees that are replaced quickly. Secondly, poor management often caused by bad policy and fear of litigation has allowed forests to grow thick with small trees that in a more natural regime would be burned by frequent naturally occurring wildfire. This powder keg will be set off causing huge amounts of pollution all at once. Currently we harvest about 3% of the annually accumulating biomass in our national forests. In effect, we are pour more and more powder into a keg in the middle of a room full of cigarette addicts. It’s just a matter of time ….

  • Claudzilla

    Mary Booth’s study, according to this article, shows a correlation between where the burners are located and the air quality in those areas. Is there a clear connection between the two? Or are there other industries operating in these areas that are also contributing to the poor air quality? Let’s make sure we have the right culprit, and not just a scapegoat here.

  • Mcat


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