Biomass Industry Goes to Washington

By Bob Cleaves | October 26, 2010

As the 111th Congress winds down and election season heats up, the biomass industry is making every effort to remind policymakers that we are an essential renewable energy industry that employs thousands of Americans. Here’s what we are doing on both federal and state fronts.

On the Federal Level

As part of this effort, a group of biomass leaders from across the country descended on Washington to explain our industry to those who were unfamiliar and to emphasize three main messages to, well, anyone who would listen:

• The biomass industry needs and deserves the same tax credits provided to the rest of the renewable energy industry. Only through tax credits can we continue to build and improve our industry, employing more Americans and contributing to our nation’s clean energy future.

• The U.S. EPA must pass reasonable rules reflecting the way that biomass is collected and used for energy. The agency must, in particular, pass reasonable emissions standards for biomass boilers and acknowledge that biomass fuel emissions are vastly different from that of fossil fuels.

• Congress must pass a federal energy policy that promotes American sources of renewable energy. Without a renewable energy standard enacted as soon as possible, the biomass industry and other renewable sources stand to lose ground to cheaper foreign sources of energy.

The biomass industry group met with White House officials as well as House members and Senators from both parties. The elected officials with whom we met have influence over energy policy debates and represent districts that would be affected if the biomass industry were to decline. Our message was clear—biomass plays a critically important role in preserving the nation’s portfolio of renewable energy, sustaining rural economies and promoting healthy forests and agriculture.

On the Local Level

It’s no secret that Massachusetts remains a significant policy challenge. The state’s Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has proposed a rule that would narrowly define fuel sources that can be classified as biomass, and efficiency standards that are unachievable. This would endanger existing plants in the region, and it would prevent new biomass facilities from opening. We believe strongly that DOER’s proposal is based not on science, but on a flawed study that has nothing to do with the realities of biomass power.

In September, the Biomass Power Association joined four other groups who are also threatened by this proposed rule on a media conference call. I was joined by representatives of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, the Laborers Union 596, American Ag Energy and Pioneer Renewable Energy. Each of us described in detail what would happen to our respective industries and constituents if the proposed law were to become actual law. Our messages—particularly the message about protecting New England jobs—were picked up favorably by news outlets across the state, including the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and several local newspapers.

DOER has yet to adopt a final rule, but you can be sure that the biomass industry will continue to shine light on the problems created with this rule.

A Look Ahead

We are encouraged by the strong support shown to the biomass industry by a diverse group of U.S. Senators. In late September, a bipartisan group of 41 Senators sent a letter to the EPA urging the agency to carefully reconsider its MACT rule regulating biomass boiler emissions.

No matter what the outcome of this fall’s elections, the biomass industry will continue to keep the pressure on lawmakers to recognize the numerous benefits the biomass industry offers. We have something to offer lawmakers of every stripe: jobs, home-grown clean energy, healthy forests, sustainable agriculture. Who wouldn’t support that?

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association