BCAP comments amassed, final rule release indefinite

By Anna Austin
USDA's Biomass Crop Assistance Program proposed rule comment period expired April 9. Those anxious for the final rule release and/or the current freeze on the program to cease can now only wait for the USDA to sort through the 24,000-plus comment submissions and formulate a fair and consensus-driven rule.

When that will be, however, remains unclear although some in the industry have speculated that it will likely come out later this summer.

The proposed rule was released Feb. 8, and individuals or groups had 60 days to submit feedback on program elements. Key provisions included eliminating the dry tonnage measure and adapting to industry norms, scaling back matching collection, harvest, storage and transport (CHST) payments of certain qualifiers and a prohibition on wood materials that might otherwise be used for higher-value purposes.

The prohibition stemmed from concerns expressed by the composite panel and fiberboard industries, alleging that the CHST payments for certain eligible materials such as sawdust and wood shavings were directly increasing prices and competition for an established market.

The wording in the proposed rule is as follows, "CCC proposes that vegetative wastes, such as wood waste and wood residues, collected or harvested from both public and private lands should be limited to only those that would not otherwise be used for a higher-value product. More specifically, for materials collected from both public and private lands, CCC is proposing to exclude from matching payment eligibility wood wastes and residues derived from mill residues (i.e. tailings, etc.) or other production processes that create residual byproducts that are typically used as inputs for higher value-added production (i.e. particle board [sic], fiberboard, plywood, or other wood product market."

Donna Harman, CEO of the American Forest and Paper Association said AF&PA supports USDA's stated goal of avoiding diversion of materials potentially eligible for the BCAP matching payments from existing value-added production processes already occurring in the marketplace. "Unfortunately, we have serious concerns with USDA's proposed approach to implementation," she said. "If USDA focuses the matching payments component on woody biomass materials without a viable market, it can avoid diversion of materials from existing value-added production processes "

The Biomass Thermal Energy Council said BCAP should preserve the program eligibility of vegetative waste materials such as wood wastes and residues, while the Biomass Power Association suggested that sawdust and wood shavings from saw mills be explicitly excluded from the eligible materials list, but that suppliers of the materials be allowed to petition USDA for eligibility where it can be demonstrated that no higher value use currently exists. "This safeguards biomass used by the composite panel facilities but only when there is a demonstration that such materials will actually be put to such use," said BPA President Bob Cleaves.

The Composite Panel Association suggested a clearer definition of the prohibition proposal, commenting that the terms "wood waste" and "wood residue" are not defined in the proposed rule nor discussed in any legislative history. CPA recommended that it be clearly stated that eligible wood waste and wood residues do not include scraps, sawdust, chips and shavings from saw mills and other wood mill facilities, either in a standalone definition of those terms or in the definitions of renewable biomass.