"We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy. In the coming years, we will develop a common sense approach that protects our environment and encourages the use of clean energy," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
The EPA said that it plans to finish by July a rulemaking that will defer permitting requirements for CO2 emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources for three years.
The EPA's decision affects facilities that emit CO2 from burning forest or agricultural products for energy, wastewater treatment and livestock management facilities, landfills and fermentation processes for ethanol production.
"Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future, and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change," Jackson said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed the EPA's decision, saying it will benefit farmers, ranchers and forest owners who play a crucial role in providing renewable energy from wood, switchgrass and other agricultural products.
However, Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said the EPA's action is another concession to the agency's critics in both industry and Congress.
"It does mark a reversal by EPA, though the agency has made a plausible scientific case to delay these requirements," said O'Donnell. "It should remove some of the congressional heat. At the very least, EPA supporters in Congress can argue that the agency is trying to be thoughtful."
The EPA has been attacked by many U.S. lawmakers for trying to go around Congress to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. They fear such EPA rules will hurt the economy.
This month, the EPA began air permitting requirements for large greenhouse gas emitting industries that are planning to build new facilities or make major changes to existing ones.
These facilities, such as oil refineries and power plants, must obtain air permits and carry out energy efficiency measures or use cost-effective technology to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.