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From Colby Marshall, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden's Representative: Biomass
Hello everyone – we thought you would like to read yesterday’s East Oregonian editorial (below) calling on the Congress to fix the definition of renewable biomass in the current national energy tax bill (commonly referred to as cap-and-trade bill). Rep. Greg Walden is continuing his effort to make sure the majority’s $646 billion national energy tax does not deal a death blow to Oregon’s renewable biomass energy industry. The cap and tax plan, which would saddle the average American household with an extra $1,600 in energy taxes, would rule out federal biomass as a source of renewable energy, a potential source of business and jobs for rural Oregon, and would add further difficulty to managing our federal forests. This makes no sense to Greg and he will keep up the fight to ensure that renewable biomass, which burns far cleaner than coal, contributes to healthier forests, and could create substantial job opportunities for rural Oregonians, is included in the bill. He will also be looking forward to support in this effort from the other members of the Oregon congressional delegation given the enormous economic and ecological impact ruling out federal biomass as a source of renewable energy could have on our state.
East Oregonian editorial: Biomass deserves consideration in cap-and-trade bill
Congress reaffirmed last month it can't always see the forest for the trees. That was clear as the House Committee on Energy and Commerce tinkered with massive national energy cap-and-trade legislation that, if it makes it to the president's desk, could pull the rug out from under woody biomass work in the national forests.
The problem stems from the way it defines tax incentives for renewable fuel development. As written, the legislation excludes biomass development on "mature" federal forests - the very forests that are in such critical need of restoration work - from those incentives.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a member of the committee, tried in vain to get the votes to fix that portion of the bill last week. Among the concerns:
- Biomass should get the same treatment as other renewable fuel technologies, such as solar and wind power, when it comes to incentives. Without that lure, investors aren't likely to give biomass the boost it needs to reach a sustainable reality.
- The exclusion of mature forests, and federal forests in particular, is random and counterproductive.
When it comes to such concerns, Walden has good company.
Consider the Society of American Foresters, a collection of scientists, educators and professional foresters. The SAF, in a letter to the committee, called the singling out of mature federal forests "extremely problematic" - a designation that would not only diminish market incentives but also limit the management options available to forest managers.
The SAF noted the important role biomass development could play in clearing dense brush and overgrowth to improve the resiliency of our forests.
"Yet the very forest stands that would need these treatments are mostly mature stands," the SAF wrote. "Further, a vast majority of federal forest are 'mature,' according to the application of the term in forestry."
That's a particular problem in the Northwest, where the forests are a key resource - but one that's increasingly prone to insect infestation, disease and catastrophic fire. Rural communities whose economies are linked to the forest also see the biomass industry as a ray of hope as they battle chart-topping unemployment rates.
So why this seemingly random language to exclude biomass work in the federal forests? It could stem from simple ignorance on the part of politicians who don't understand forest health issues. It also could reflect successful lobbying by groups who fear biomass will be just another commercial use on public lands, and that this could set up an end run around environmental laws.
Here on the ground in rural Oregon, we also have fears - fears that our forests will go up in smoke. Forest Service officials across Region 6 have been working for months to draft plans and policies that will attract biomass developers and also meet forest standards and environmental laws. They recognize biomass for its potential to enhance habitat, improve forest resiliency and put people to work.
Unfortunately, it looks as if too many members of Congress are buying the idea that we can heal our forests by leaving them alone. The committee passed the energy legislation, with the mature federal forest exclusion intact, just before the Memorial Day weekend.
The measure is expected to be approved by the full House this month, but there's still hope clearer heads will prevail on the biomass issue. The legislation must be considered by the Senate, where Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairs the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee. In recent months, Wyden has pushed for better funding of forest restoration and hazardous fuels reduction on the federal forests.
For the region's sake, let's hope our senior senator can persuade his colleagues to take a rational perspective on biomass and its potential for our federal forest lands.
Page Updated: Thursday June 04, 2009 03:17 AM Pacific
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