Climate bill evaluates biomass impacts, definition

By Lisa Gibson
Posted May 13, 2010, at 10:50 a.m. CST

The American Power Act, which was rolled out May 12 by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., calls for a review of the definition of renewable biomass and provides for studies into the current and future impacts of biomass combustion and production of biomass-derived gas or liquid fuels.

The review is to be conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, evaluating how sources of biomass contribute to the goals of increasing the nation's energy independence, protecting the environment and reducing global warming, according to the draft of the bill, which reflects closed-door negotiations with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The studies into the impact on food production and the environment from burning biomass or making biofuels will be conducted by the U.S. EPA, USDA and Department of the Interior. Both parties would report their findings to Congress with any recommendations.

"The Biomass Power Association appreciates the efforts of Senator John Kerry and Senator Joe Lieberman to move America towards energy independence by promoting the development of our renewable energy sector," said Bob Cleaves, BPA president. "Expanding production of biomass power with strong incentives for renewable energy and a broad definition of biomass will improve forest health, reduce greenhouse gases and create thousands of jobs."

Cleaves added, though, that the BPA will continue to support and push for a renewable electricity standard (RES) of 25 percent by 2025, which would create about 274,000 renewable energy jobs and a cumulative 2.36 million job years of work compared with no national policy, according to a recent RES-Alliance for Jobs study.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also pointed out the lack of a federal RES in the newest climate bill. "As the draft bill moves forward, it is critical that it include a strong standard that would spur development of clean renewable electricity sources, generate new jobs and reduce consumers' energy bills," the group said.

The bill also includes expansions of nuclear power and carbon capture sequestration; revenue sharing for states that want to conduct more offshore oil and gas production; and a first-ever cap on greenhouse gas production. The Union of Concerned Scientists praised the legislation's heat-trapping emissions reduction goal of 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050; the preservation of the EPA's ability to reduce global warming pollution from the oldest, dirtiest power plants; and a down payment on more efficient transportation infrastructure and vehicle manufacturing and electrification.

The group recommended, among other measures, strengthening the bill by increasing funding for states to invest in clean, home-grown renewable energy and energy efficient programs; including funding for reducing tropical deforestation; and reducing the reliance on offsets, which would let polluters avoid cleaning up their own emissions for years.