What the Election Results Mean for Biomass

By Bob Cleaves | November 20, 2012

In the coming days, each of us will be treated to countless webinars and seminars on the Election Day post-mortem as it relates to renewable energy. Aside from the obvious winners—the president, Senate Democrats and House Republicans—and losers—Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, and the so-called “Mad Men” wing of the Republican Party—the following is what we know.

The fire alarm caused by an assault on existing policies supporting renewable energy is less likely to happen now that we have a divided Congress and a president on record as supporting renewables. Whatever we think may happen on broader tax reform, be on the lookout for proposals to phase out tax benefits for certain renewables such as wind. In the context of that debate will come an opportunity for the biomass industry to educate Congress about the importance of tax benefits for our industry—which have long been inadequate to foster significant growth and less than benefits received by other renewables—and ways that Section 45 can continue to support an industry that is so vital to rural economies, sustainable forest management and agriculture.

Next, it may be an overstatement to interpret the president’s win as a clear mandate for renewable energy. However, the voters appeared unmoved by U.S. DOE loan guarantees to failed solar panel manufacturers or electric car companies. Barely a word was spoken on climate during the campaign, at least until half of the nation’s largest city and huge swaths of the Mid-Atlantic Coast were underwater because of a storm surge that was only made worse by documented rising seas levels. Will climate re-emerge on the congressional or White House agenda? While not immediately, the billions needed to shore up New York’s seawalls needs to be funded somehow. Did somebody say carbon tax?

We see strong possibilities that climate will be the central environmental issue, even if it doesn’t poll well. For that reason, the role of biomass in combatting climate change through healthy forests, fire prevention and carbon dioxide avoidance will be important. Watch for the U.S. EPA to play a prominent role in that debate, and for BPA to make sure that the agency applies sound science and responsible public policy. Watch also for USDA to play a larger role in supporting the industry as a means of preventing forest fires and the promotion of energy crops like willow.

Finally, it goes without saying that regulatory reform in a Romney administration would look very different from the president’s. Yet, with a divided Congress and an economy not yet emerged from a deep recession, we are optimistic that EPA will encourage the use of biomass and not regulate certain fuels as wastes. What remains to be seen is whether the Boiler MACT rulemaking, when completed by the EPA in the coming months, will be affordable and achievable.

One thing is certain, however: we are all safe from political ads for at least a couple months.


Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association