Report links policy with sustainability

By Lisa Gibson | May 31, 2010
Posted July 1, 2010, at 2:24 p.m. CST

Policy goals for renewable biofuels and bioenergy could be achieved, but policymakers must take steps to protect the sustainability of the nation's forests in the face of increasing demands for woody biomass, according to "Forest Sustainability in the Development of Wood Bioenergy in the U.S.," a recently released report by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

National goals of achieving greater energy security and mitigating climate change together have created rapidly expanding demands on U.S. forests for wood-based bioenergy, according to the two-year study. The report contains several key findings, conclusions and recommendations:

•There is a need for more reliable and accurate methods for assessing how much biomass is available and sustainable in the long-term at the national, regional and local scales.

•Demands on forests are many and growing, and there is concern over the potential effects of meeting existing and proposed mandates for bioenergy.

•Adequate environmental safeguards are necessary to address the more intensive type of wood harvesting that is often conducted for energy purposes through state forest practices policies, through state and regional biomass harvesting guidelines, through nongovernmental sustainability certification programs, and through responsible sourcing policies by energy companies.

•Policies to define the role of federal forests in biomass supply are inconsistent and clear policy direction is essential in developing guidelines to ensure continued conservation and sustainable use of forest lands.

•Decision makers and stakeholders need to consider the full range of wood bioenergy and biofuel technology options before making facility siting decisions, including scale, type of facility and how it relates to local environmental and economic circumstances.

•There is a need to better align federal and state policies for financial investments, tax credits and targets for renewable energy production with existing policies aimed at ensuring the sustainable management of both public and private forests. Federal policies need to be flexible enough to accommodate sustainable wood bioenergy strategies that may differ significantly from one major forest region of the country to another.

Information for the study was collected through one national and four regional workshops involving more than 280 experts and stakeholders across the U.S. and Canada. "We think it is a comprehensive primer that is the product of the industry and academic experts who are in the thick of the issue," said Star Dodd, director of communications for the Pinchot Institute. "We did not intend to reach any conclusions about biomass but rather to better define the more technical issues biomass raises."

Dodd makes mention of the recent news coverage of a Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences study in which Pinchot was involved. Media reports falsely claimed that the study concluded biomass is dirtier than coal. "We welcome the attention to the issue but are concerned about the minimal reporting on the complex scientific and policy issues that local governments, states and the federal government need to grapple with to determine whether a biomass push makes sense," she said. "We think issues like the role of forest certification, the regional variations in the types and amounts of feedstock available for biomass facilities, the potential conflicts between renewable energy standards and renewable fuels standards, need to be addressed in the context of policy considerations."

The full report can be downloaded from Pinchot's Web site: