Biomass: A 2017 Policy Outlook

As the new administration settles into office and the 115th Congress takes shape, the Biomass Power Association is looking ahead at potential policy opportunities for the biomass industry in 2017.
By Bob Cleaves | February 23, 2017

As the new administration settles into office and the 115th Congress takes shape, we are looking ahead at potential policy opportunities for the biomass industry in 2017. The following are some key issues the Biomass Power Association is preparing for.

Infrastructure and Forestry. We are seeing a shift in the administration from a focus on renewable energy during the Obama era, to a focus on forestry, jobs and infrastructure. Both the Trump administration and Democrats have expressed a strong interest in investing in a large infrastructure package; a Democratic proposal has budgeted $100 million specifically for energy infrastructure.

Compared to previous years, we are seeing much more interest from the administration and Congress in land management and logging. Many federal lands across the country need management, whether it’s the 100 million dead trees in California, or the dry, densely forested lands of the Southeast, and GOP leaders have consistently recognized this.

The Farm Bill, legislation that preserves policies that support the agriculture and forestry industries, must be reauthorized by 2019. Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson from rural Minnesota, is seen by many as a conservative Democrat willing to make deals across the aisle. There may be an opportunity to work across the aisle for funding to improve forest health on federal, state and private lands.

Tax. We are hearing both enthusiasm and skepticism on the likelihood of tax reform being completed this year. It’s been a priority for Republicans, but right now, it’s taking a back seat to other priorities like health care and immigration. If tax reform does happen, we expect major changes to the Section 45 production tax credit program, if it survives at all.

Regulations. Congress and the Trump administration have both made it a priority to identify regulations to roll back. So far, none of the regulations tagged for removal involve biomass, but there may be some upcoming opportunities, particularly with the U.S. EPA’s Non-hazardous Secondary Materials rule.

EPA. We will be watching closely for any action on the Clean Power Plan and on the EPA’s regulation of carbon from biogenic sources. We do not expect the plan to move forward, even though the U.S. EPA administrator nominee, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has pledged several times to continue to regulate carbon dioxide. Rather than setting and enforcing carbon reduction targets as the Clean Power Plan proposed, we expect a more laissez-faire approach to state clean air regulations. He has also proposed allowing coal facilities to stay open with a requirement for improved emissions controls, possibly opening up an opportunity for cofiring with biomass.

U.S. Forest Service. Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia, is the nominee to lead the USDA, which houses the U.S. Forest Service, a sponsor of Bioenergy Day and one of our closest partners in the U.S. government. Throughout his tenure as governor, Perdue strongly supported forestry, and even attended the openings of several biomass facilities. We are encouraged by his biomass experience and are looking forward to continuing our strong relationship with the U.S. Forest Service.

While some signs point to an encouraging political climate for biomass, there still remain many questions about how far a Republican-led government will be willing to go to support biomass. There is also unprecedented gridlock on Capitol Hill, and a Republican party with some internal disagreements. For now, a few weeks into the Trump administration, we are seeing some indications of the policies to expect over the next four years, and we see some reasons to be optimistic about the biomass industry. However, given the hostile political climate and lack of cohesion even among political parties, very little is clear about what will move forward.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, none of these policies would happen without our trusted team at BPA. I’m pleased to announce the promotion of Carrie Annand as our new executive director, and Nick Mazuroski as our new vice president of operations. Congratulations, Carrie and Nick.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association