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 PRESS RELEASE: Oregon Congressman Greg Walden 5/25/05

Walden Holds Forestry Subcommittee Hearing on Utilization of Woody Biomass

Panel reviews GAO report that focuses on ways to better use debris from forests for environmental, economic benefits

Washington, D.C. - The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released a report titled "Federal Agencies Are Engaged in Various Efforts to Promote the Utilization of Woody Biomass, but Significant Obstacles to Its Use Remain," GAO-05-373, which recognized the importance of biomass utilization and the coordination between federal agencies implementing such activities: the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Energy (DOE) and the Interior.  The House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, chaired by U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) held a hearing on the report and the issue of biomass utilization today. 

"I want to thank GAO for this report as it brings to light programs currently underway to encourage the utilization of woody biomass while also addressing barriers that still remain," said Walden, co-author of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) and vice chair of the bipartisan House Renewable Energy Caucus.  "The industry has a promising future in Oregon and nationally.  As lawmakers we have the responsibility to create an environment that allows it to develop."

The GAO report states that "Using woody biomass in these or other ways can have several beneficial side effects, including stimulating local economies and potentially facilitating fuels reduction efforts by creating a demand for thinned material." 

Woody biomass can be used as fuel to generate electricity or can be converted into products such as road signs, animal bedding, furniture, flooring or paper pulp.  For example, Phil Archuletta of P&M Plastics, Inc. and P&M Signs, Inc. in New Mexico, a witness during today's hearing, uses juniper chips with plastic to create a composite material used to make road signs.  Biomass is also useful in producing steam energy and heat for use in manufacturing processes or to power buildings, such as a California power plant using the materials to fuel its operations.

"As it stands now, the vast majority of forestland debris will become a tinderbox on our forest floors or simply piled up in landfills.  The continued coordination between the Congress and the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and the Interior in finding innovative and cost-effective ways to use biomass will help advance efforts in both hazardous fuels reduction and the development of alternative fuel sources."

The report also addresses obstacles faced in efforts to promote the utilization of the material, including the "difficulty of using woody biomass cost-effectively and the lack of a reliable supply of the material."  The report goes on to state that USDA, DOE and Interior are working directly on trying to overcome these obstacles, but that many agency officials believe "incentives - such as subsidies and tax credits - beyond the agencies' authority are needed." 

In an effort to help overcome these obstacles, Congress has placed an emphasis on biomass utilization through recent legislation.  The Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000, which Walden supported, directed agencies to coordinate research and development efforts and created the Biomass Research and Development Board. 

HFRA, enacted in 2003, authorized funding for grant programs administered by the USDA; one focuses on community-based enterprises and small business using biomass, the other provides grants to offset the costs of purchasing biomass by facilities that use if for wood-based products. 

Additionally, the Jobs Creation Act of 2004, which Walden also supported, contained tax incentives promoting the use of woody biomass to generate electricity in order to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which passed the House earlier this year, includes provisions for a woody biomass program that would provide grants for value-added projects and transportation costs.

"The potential for this industry in Oregon is outstanding," said Walden.  "I look forward to continued collaboration with my colleagues in the Congress, the agencies engaged in biomass activities, and the many innovative companies using woody biomass materials as we move toward developing the future of this industry."

Congressman Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip in the House leadership structure and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as well as the Committee on Resources.





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