Thune holds forest waste hearing

By Kris Bevill
Web exclusive posted August 20, 2008 at 4:46 p.m. CST

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee's Energy Subcommittee, held a public hearing in Rapid City, S.D., on Aug. 18 to discuss the woody biomass located in the Black Hills National Forest and why it's not currently allowed to be used as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol projects.

The hearing was attended by Senate Energy Committee member Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., representatives from the Black Hills National Forest and the Black Hills Forest Resource Association as well as private forest land owner and KL Process Design Group LLC President Randy Kramer.

National forest waste is not currently included in the definition of "woody biomass" as written in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Thune told hearing attendees that the final definition failed to include material removed or harvested from federal lands and national forests because the U.S. House of Representatives changed the wording "behind closed doors" in the final days of debate before the bill's passage. He has since introduced bill S.2558 that would amend that definition.

Thune's Senior Advisor Jon Lauck said the definition was changed due to environmental concerns on behalf of some representatives. The testimony given Aug. 18 proved otherwise, he said. "They (witnesses) said it's actually worse for the forests to leave the waste there," Lauck said, adding that the current removal method of burning slash piles adds carbon dioxide to the environment, worsening the environmental situation.

Witnesses testified at the hearing that there is approximately 200,000 tons of woody biomass available annually in the Black Hills National Forest. It was noted that between 50 and 105 gallons of ethanol can be produced from every ton of biomass.

Lauck said the hearing was very successful in demonstrating how beneficial it would be for forest management and ethanol production if the energy bill's wording were to be changed back to the original definition.

Thune's bill to amend the energy bill has been referred to the Senate Energy Committee, according to Lauck. The senator's definition for woody biomass has also been included in the recently formed Gang of 10's energy bill, called the New Energy Reform Act. Thune said the group hopes to begin moving the bill through the legislative process as soon as Congress reconvenes in September.