AUGUSTA – The Professional Logging Contractors (PLC) of Maine commends the decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to preserve language affirming the carbon neutral status of woody forest biomass as a renewable fuel in the federal appropriations bill passed Thursday, July 14.
The PLC strongly supports the continued use of forest biomass as a renewable energy source to support Maine logging jobs by making markets available for the low value woody debris, limbs, and tops that are a byproduct of timber harvests while also improving forest health, reducing insect and disease infestations, and lowering the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
“Biomass is a renewable, reliable, locally sourced fuel that supports Maine logging jobs and energy security while reducing use of fossil fuels,” PLC Executive Director Dana Doran, said. “We applaud this decision which rightly affirms the carbon neutrality of biomass while recognizing its importance to our forest economy and health.”
The House of Representatives passed, on a vote of 231 to 196, the FY17 Interior Appropriations Bill, HR 5538, including terms preventing any agency from regulating CO2 emissions from forest biomass-generated power. Although House members offered, and voted on, 179 amendments to the bill, there was no amendment to strike the “carbon neutrality of forest biomass” provision, and the bill passed with that language intact.
The Senate version of the Appropriations Bill, still waiting for floor action, also contains language favorable for recognizing forest biomass as carbon neutral.
The PLC applauds the leadership of U.S. Congressman Bruce Poliquin on this bill and for his wider efforts to support the biomass market in Maine and Maine loggers. PLC also commends U.S. Senators Angus King and Susan Collins for their leadership in the Senate earlier this year to secure critical provisions in the Senate’s energy bill (S 2012), the Energy Policy Modernization Act, to ensure that biomass is recognized as a carbon neutral fuel in federal energy policy.
Both the House and Senate have adjourned for the August recess and work to reconcile the difference in the bill is not expected until after the November elections when it is likely to be placed in an omnibus appropriations package to help avoid a Presidential veto. The current administration recently published a statement pointing out 30 provisions to which it objected, with the carbon neutrality provision being one of them.
Biomass power plants reduce reliance on fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to other base load sources, and have been cited as offering climate change mitigation benefits in the Clean Power Plan released last year by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.
The loss of the biomass market would be a huge blow to the logging industry in Maine, which has sold woody biomass waste from logging operations to the plants for years. The idling of two Covanta Energy plants in Maine this spring has already had a direct effect on a large percentage of Maine loggers who are struggling with paper mill closures in 2015 and early 2016 that have limited markets for wood fiber.
The PLC has estimated total economic losses to the state of Maine from the loss of the biomass industry could be as high as $300 million per year.
The PLC has worked over the past eight months to bolster the Maine biomass market through various actions including a bill passed this spring by the Maine Legislature, LD 1676, designed to preserve the industry by providing stable, short-term contracts for Maine biomass plants to buy time for other steps that can lead to their long-term health. Those steps will be outlined in a comprehensive study of biomass opportunities in Maine which the Legislature also approved at the urging of the PLC and the biomass industry.