American workers deserve certainty on biomass energy
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Uncertainty can devastate economic growth and sustainability as much as any recession. Some uncertainty is unavoidable, as every American worker and business owner knows all too well. But regulatory uncertainty is something that can be remedied with a little bit of practicality and political courage.

That’s precisely what we need from the Administration and Congress now, as they consider future energy policy, including from wood biomass.

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The forest products industry is the largest producer and user of bioenergy in America’s industrial economy. Paper mills use biomass residuals from their operations—basically the leftovers of making the paper we use every day for communication, hygiene, and environmentally friendly packaging for food and other products—to create bioenergy. That bioenergy yields significant carbon reducing benefits.

 

But this factual reality has yet to be matched with smart policy. For many years, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy acknowledged and treated biomass energy as ‘carbon neutral’, in line with the rest of the world. But in 2010, EPA’s Tailoring Rule reversed that policy, with no scientific backing, or notice and comment, leading to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from biomass energy for the first time. EPA committed to study and resolve its biomass policy by July 2014. Unfortunately, EPA has not completed its assessment, and a final resolution is not in sight. As a result, the future of biomass energy is in limbo.

About 900,000 men and women work in the domestic forest products industry supply chain – over 100,000 of them are members of the United Steelworkers. The paper industry provides workers with family-sustaining jobs and is the life’s blood of hundreds of local, rural communities. The uncertainty of federal biomass policy makes it difficult for companies to plan future investments in existing facilities or contemplate new ones. This uncertainty negatively impacts jobs. Further, by treating biomass energy emissions the same as fossil fuels, we put U.S. manufacturing at a disadvantage in the global marketplace - where 15 percent of our product is exported. Global economies and governments are looking for clean energy to sustainably meet our future energy needs. Biomass energy is an important part of a clean energy future. U.S. pulp and paper mills’ use of biomass as a fuel, after they’ve created paper products, is highly efficient and has helped the industry reduce its purchased energy by over 8 percent in the past 10 years. By reducing fossil fuel use and employing more efficient technologies, the pulp and paper industry has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 16 percent. Furthermore, over 97 percent of the electricity produced by these facilities is through highly efficient combined heat and power technology. And the markets for those paper products encourage forest owners to invest in sustainable forest management practices that keep forests growing and healthy.

We agree with the more than 100 forest science experts from the National Association of University Forest Resources Programs (NAUFRP), who have written twice to the EPA, urging them to affirm biomass energy does not increase carbon dioxide levels, as long as carbon stocks in U.S. timberland remain stable or increase. There is no scientific disagreement that trees capture carbon as part of the natural carbon cycle, which occurs whether or not humans ever intervene. So when some of the natural carbon emissions from decaying plant matter are harnessed to create energy, it is logical to conclude that no net carbon is being added to the atmosphere. And when more trees are grown than harvested, as is the case in the U.S., the emissions created from using bioenergy are more than offset.

We also support full funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program so that future decisions about forest carbon stocks will be based on the most accurate data possible and not on speculative modeling assumptions about the future.

The U.S. Senate has rightly recognized the need for Congress to act, and we hope Congress will bring needed certainty, recognizing biomass as a part of our nation’s renewable energy future. Our government should act now to embrace biomass energy and the economic and environmental benefits it brings.

Leo W. Gerard is International President of the United Steelworkers and Donna Harman is President and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.