EPA, USDA, DOE send letter to Congress on biomass neutrality

By Erin Voegele | November 02, 2018

On Nov. 1, leaders of the U.S. EPA, UDSA and U.S. Department of Energy sent a letter Congress describing the agencies’ work to ensure consistent federal policy on forest biomass energy and promote policies that encourage the treatment of biomass as a carbon-neutral energy solution.

The letter, delivered to the House and Senate Committee on Appropriations, references the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, or H.R. 1625, which was signed into law by President Trump on March 23. The law included congressional direction and emphasis on the importance of the U.S. forest sector to the energy needs of the country. In the letter, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry confirm their agencies will work collaboratively to meet the directives laid out by H.R. 1625.

Within H.R. 1625, Congress directed EPA, USDA and DOE to ensure that federal policy related to forest biomass is consistent across all federal departments and agencies, and recognizes the full benefits of the use of forest biomass for energy, conservation, and responsible forest management. It also directed the agencies to establish clear and simple policies for the use of forest biomass as an energy solution, including policies that reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source, provided its use for energy production does not cause conversion of forests to non-forest use. The law also encourages private investment throughout the forest biomass supply chain, encourages forest management to improve forest health and recognizes state initiatives to produce and use forest biomass.

“The interagency approach to biomass energy provided by forests and other lands and sectors will be guided by an appreciation that forests and other lands and sectors are managed to provide multiple environmental, social, and economic benefits to our communities, while simultaneously contributing to U.S. energy independence and job creation,” said Wheeler, Perdue and Perry in the letter.

According to the agencies, maintaining healthy forests can contribute to U.S. energy independence, stimulate the creation of jobs, and provide multiple environmental and social benefits. The letter describes each agency’s work in this area and their intent to continue to collaborate across the federal government, with industrial partners, states, tribes, local governments, and non-governmental organizations to ensure that biomass plays a key role in addressing the energy needs of the U.S. in an environmentally and economically beneficial way.

“This letter codifies EPA’s partnership with USDA and DOE to develop clear and effective policies that treat forest biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source,” Wheeler said. “Providing clarity and certainty regarding the treatment of forest biomass as carbon neutral will support good-paying jobs in rural communities, protect our nation’s air quality, and remove unnecessary regulatory burdens.”

“Responsibly using the fuels from our forests is both good for the environment and good for struggling rural economies. Multiple studies have found that demand for wood products, including wood for energy, actually serves to promote investment in forest management and helps to maintain or increase the amount of land in forests,” Perdue said. “A stronger bioenergy market helps America achieve a variety of forest management and sustainability goals, including: reducing wildfire risks, improving forest health, increasing restoration, watershed improvements, creating new wildlife habitat, timber stand improvement, aesthetics, and more.”

“Biomass is a key part of the Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” Perry said. “The Department of Energy supports the men and women in the agricultural and forest industries that help provide America with clean, secure, and affordable sources of bioenergy.”

The American Forest & Paper Association has expressed appreciation for the agencies’ letter. “We are encouraged that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the United States Department of Agriculture are committed to taking action on the Congressional directive to produce clear, science-based policies that reflect the carbon neutrality of biomass and recognize it as a renewable energy source,” said Donna Harman, president and CEO of AFPA. “More than seven years of policy uncertainty in this area jeopardizes our companies’ ability to invest in biomass and build and upgrade their facilities. Removing that barrier clears the way for future economic growth and job creation and helps ensure the U.S. is in step with global competitors. That’s a winning combination for everyone.”

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from the EPA website.