Industry hopeful Obama's climate change plan will address biomass

By Staff | June 24, 2013

President Obama is expected to speak about his plan to fight climate change during a speech at Georgetown University on June 25. A recent posting of the White House Blog states that during his speech, Obama will “lay out his vision for the steps we need to take to prepare our country for the impacts of climate change and lead the global effort to fight it.”

In a short video posted to the White House website previewing the speech, Obama said he will describe a national plan to reduce carbon pollution. “This is a serious challenge, but it’s one uniquely suited to America’s strengths. We’ll need scientists to design new fuels and farmers to grow them. We’ll need engineers to devise new sources of energy, and businesses to make and sell them,” he said. “We’ll need workers to build the foundation for a clean energy economy, and we’ll need all of our citizens to do our part to preserve God’s creation for future generations: our forests and waterways, our croplands and snow-capped peaks. There is no single step that can reverse the effects of climate change, but when it comes to the world we leave our children, we owe it to them to do what we can. So, I hope you’ll share this message with your friends, because this is a challenge that affects everyone, and we all have a stake in solving it together.”

The White House website also outlines several steps the Obama administration has already taken to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change, including reducing emissions through clean energy investments and standards and the formation of a climate change adaption tax force.

Many in the bioenergy industry are wondering what role biobased fuels and power will play in Obama’s vision for climate change mitigation.

Paul Winters, director of communications at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, stressed that his organization hopes Obama’s plan will recognize the contribution biotechnology can make to carbon reduction goals through the production of both biobased fuels and biochemicals. “We hope that the Obama administration recognized biotechnology as a tool for energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources in manufacturing,” Winters said. "These are essential to achieve a cleaner, healthier environment. According to a recent estimate, biotechnology processes and biobased products could eliminate more than 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.”

Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, said he is looking forward to hearing the specific content of Obama’s speech and is hopeful he will address transportation fuels and the role of advanced biofuels in providing sustainable options. McAdams also said he would like the president to help expedite the approval of new fuel pathways under the renewable fuel standard (RFS). 

Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, said there are two major areas where Obama’s Administration’s help can make a big difference for the biomass industry. “The first would be a commitment to the use of federal lands for renewable energy production,” he said. “The collection of brush and forest trimmings from federal forestlands is an excellent way to improve forest health and prevent forest fires, and these materials should be utilized by biomass facilities, rather than open burning or decomposition in a landfill. This would ensure the generation of clean, renewable energy as well as containment of the harmful methane gas. The second area where the administration can help would be, under the existing authority of the U.S. EPA granted by the Clean Air Act, to confirm the value of biomass as a renewable energy source.”

Those in the biomass industry are also hopeful the plan will recognize the benefits of renewable thermal energy. "As the President rolls out his administration's climate plan, we're hopeful that it recognizes the carbon benefits of renewable biomass for energy, especially for thermal applications,” said Joe Seymour, executive director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council. “Millions of homeowners and hundreds of businesses nationwide already know that biomass thermal fuels and technologies provide a proven, affordable, domestic, and baseload source for their heating and CHP needs. For many, the transition was pure economics, switching from higher priced and often imported fossil fuels to a locally sourced fuel.  Now, we're looking forward to the inclusion of this efficient energy pathway in the broader energy discussion, and thankfully, Senator Angus King (I-ME) has recognized this with the introduction of the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act (BTU Act) of 2013."