Trump admin promises to ‘encourage’ tree burning for energy

Trump admin promises to ‘encourage’ tree burning for energy
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Three federal agencies said Thursday that they’re working to embrace burning trees and other biomass to create energy in a “carbon-neutral” way.

The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Energy (DOE) sent a letter to Congress outlining how they are carrying out a mandate from a law passed earlier this year to ensure that policies “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source.”

“EPA, USDA, and DOE will encourage the use of biomass as an energy solution, striving for consistency across federal policies and programs,” the agencies’ leaders said in the letter.

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“Working together, the agencies can tap their respective expertise in harnessing the energy potential of this country, and their experience in protecting the environment and working with foresters, farmers and other land owners.”

Labeling wood burning as environmentally friendly is at odds with environmental groups and some scientists, who say that the process of creating electricity, steam or other energy forms from wood releases all of the carbon dioxide that the trees had previously removed from the atmosphere.

William Schlesinger, a biogeochemist who used to lead the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, wrote in Science magazine earlier this year that burning wood is likely a net negative for the environment.

“Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and burning wood returns it. But recent evidence shows that the use of wood as fuel is likely to result in net CO2 emissions and may endanger forest biodiversity,” he said.

The forestry industry has been pushing for years for federal policy to consider biomass burning a renewable energy source, which could give it some of the benefits that wind, solar and similar energy forms enjoy. Companies often use sawdust and other waste to fuel operations, or turn the waste into pellets and sell them to other companies.

The American Forest and Paper Association cheered the Trump administration’s Thursday letter.

“More than seven years of policy uncertainty in this area jeopardizes our companies’ ability to invest in biomass and build and upgrade their facilities,” said Donna Harman, the group’s president.

“Removing that barrier clears the way for future economic growth and job creation and helps ensure the U.S. is in step with global competitors. That’s a winning combination for everyone.”