Biomass Regains Congressional Ally

Biomass thermal energy is too often treated by Congress as the underappreciated offspring of alternative energy. This may soon change, as the House Biomass Caucus has recently been rechartered.
By Joel Stronberg | October 21, 2015

Biomass thermal energy is too often treated by Congress as the underappreciated offspring of alternative energy. This may soon change, as the House Biomass Caucus has recently been rechartered under the leadership of freshman Rep. Bruce  Westerman, (R-Ark.), who holds a master of forestry degree from Yale, and second-term Rep. Ann Kuster, (D-N.H.).   The last time there was a Biomass Caucus in the House was 2012.

A congressional caucus, whether on the House or Senate side, may best be described as a group of legislators with a common interest, e.g., the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or the House Diabetes Caucus. Unlike a formal committee, they have no legislative authority but serve as a meeting ground for members of similar interests to discuss their concerns and often to come up with concepts that frequently are turned into proposed legislation. Think of them as idea incubators.

The biomass industry is fortunate to have Westerman and Kuster as cochairs of the caucus. They are both committed to the sustainable use of biomass as an energy source despite their otherwise differing overall political viewpoints.  Westerman may correctly be cast as a relatively conservative Republican, while Kuster is a moderate Democrat. These differences, however, may well serve as a major benefit to the biomass industry as their collaboration is an unusual example of bipartisanship in an era of political divisiveness.

Their separation on the political spectrum will not go unnoticed by other members. Whether the new caucus will move the policy needle for our industry depends on a number of factors. Among these are: the number of other representatives who choose to become members; the development of an agenda that truly addresses issues that prevent biomass from playing a more prominent role in the nation’s energy future and that improves the economies and environments of various states and districts; the willingness of the members to pursue the Caucus’s agenda; and the establishment and maintenance an active relationship with this industry.

While a formal announcement of the rechartering of the caucus has not yet been made as of this article’s writing, a kickoff event in Washington, D.C., is planned for National Bioenergy Day on Oct. 21.  The Biomass Thermal Energy Council will be asking its members to contact their congressional representatives encouraging them to become caucus members. We also encourage our biomass industry allies to contact their respective members of Congress, asking them to join this effort and educating them to the importance of supporting the caucus and the industry.

The core themes you should be relaying to your representatives are: Thermal energy represents 40 percent of the energy used in the U.S.; support for biomass technologies in federal, state and local laws and regulations will grow local economies in terms of jobs and investment and help states meet the regulatory requirements recently implemented by the U.S. EPA; biomass is a truly renewable resource; its capacity to provide combined heat and power  will result in more efficient buildings and industrial processes; and it has the advantage of being a dispatchable, nonintermittent energy source, unlike clean energy technologies like wind and solar.  In a period of historic drought and massive forest fires, one should also underline the beneficial relationship between good forestry practices and reductions in the number and intensity of forest fires.

In addition to your own members, consider writing a note to Kuster and Westerman thanking them for their re-establishment of the Biomass Caucus and willingness to expand the use of a native resource, since biomass not only provides heat and power but by its nature serves to improve the quality of life, whether as a carbon sink or a wildlife habitat for all to enjoy.

You may contact Westerman by calling his office at 202-225-5206 and Kuster at 202-225-5206 and asking to speak with the staff member responsible for agriculture and forestry matters. Another excellent means of thanking the cochairs while educating the public about the importance of biomass energy is to write a letter or op-ed piece for one of your local newspapers or contacting other local media outlets. 

It is time for thermal biomass to step out of the shadows of solar and wind energy technologies and to be accorded the same respect as these other alternatives to fossil energy.  With the support of the House Biomass Caucus and your active involvement at the federal, state and local levels, biomass energy can assume its deserved role in the clean energy family.

Author: Joel Stronberg
Executive Director, Biomass Thermal Energy Council
202 596-3974
[email protected]