Senate Recognizes Biomass’s Carbon Benefits
Some important and slightly unexpected developments occurred during the negotiations on the Senate Energy Bill.
In the context of a lot of uncertainty around the role of biomass in the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Senate used the Energy Bill to register resounding support for the carbon benefits of biomass. In a unanimous vote, the Senate agreed to an amendment to the 2016 Energy Policy Modernization Act, which recognizes the carbon neutrality of biomass when it comes from forested lands that haven’t been converted to another use.
This is a remarkable bipartisan achievement, led by Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and cosponsored by Sens. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, Steve Daines, R-Montana; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; and James Risch, R-Idaho.
During discussions that followed passage of the amendment, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, weighed in, submitting a statement for the record saying in part, “Biomass energy is already contributing to the U.S. energy mix in ways that help reduce carbon pollution that causes global warming.” This was largely a message of support for the industry, softening the senator’s previous positions on biomass. While he did not support the amendment, Sen. Markey positively cited biomass projects including plants in Gainesville, Florida, and Ft. Drum, New York, calling them “the type of project we need to encourage.”
At press time, the Senate’s final Energy bill had not yet had its final vote, but was expected to pass.
The Senate’s vote of confidence was much-needed and well-timed. The U.S. EPA announced in late January that it will hold its biomass workshop on April 7 in Washington, D.C. The workshop will explore how biomass will fit into State Implementation Plans, and will take into account input from all types of stakeholders—industry, government and NGOs.
The BPA, along with several other industry groups, is advocating for deference to current state policies. States already have in place sustainability standards, as well as procedures for tracking biomass feedstocks, and EPA does not need to create yet another standard for biomass facilities to meet. What we really need at this point is clarity; it’s been about five years since the EPA began its process to determine how to account for biomass emissions, and sometimes it seems that we haven’t gotten very far.
In early February, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy released its annual report on sustainable energy in the U.S., highlighting how much policy can help—and hurt—a given industry. Since 2008, the wind industry has tripled in size, thanks in part to the double-sized production tax credit its producers are eligible for. Biomass, which is eligible for half the credit, has grown only 15 percent during that time.
While significant growth would be welcome news for biomass, what we need now is solid help for existing facilities that are facing challenging market conditions. The bipartisan support we have built in the Senate, and in the U.S. House of Representatives with the Biomass Caucus, gives us hope that we can achieve this in the coming year.
Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association