Published in Bangor Daily News, June 3, 2015
It’s a shame that Mary Booth’s prejudice against biomass led her to attack Sen. Angus King in her May 28 BDN OpEd. King has shown real leadership on energy and the environment with his bill, S.1284, “to clarify the treatment of carbon emissions from forest biomass.”
This is good news for Maine, where for three decades biomass has been an integral part of the state’s $8 billion forest economy, which supports nearly 40,000 jobs (direct and indirect) statewide. Maine’s loggers and foresters alike appreciate the ability to make use of every part of a tree. Not so long ago these limbs and tree tops would have decomposed in the woods. If sawmill sawdust weren’t used for bioenergy, it would be overflowing landfills. Now biomass is turned into energy, providing a quarter of Maine’s electricity, the largest share of any state and the highest generation per capita of electricity in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
King’s bill is a very conservative approach to ensuring that U.S. forests capture more carbon than they release, whether trees are removed by harvesting, wildfire, disease or insect damage. It requires verification from the federal Forest Inventory and Analysis that forest carbon stocks in the U.S. are “stable or increasing” or that forest biomass is derived from mill residuals (sawdust), harvest residuals (limbs and tops) or forest management activities, such as thinning.
A related bill, S.727, by King would use tax credits to support development of efficient and clean-burning wood stoves and pellet boilers, which have become more important as Mainers struggle to keep up with the cost as residential and commercial heating has risen.
So what’s wrong with using a renewable, sustainable, plentiful resource to produce energy and keep people warm? Nothing.
Although Booth complains about “bogus scientific findings,” she neglects to mention her own figures are based on a refuted study that assumed cutting an entire forest to produce wood and then having to wait for the entire forest to grow back. That analysis ignored the fact that sustainable forest management — and Maine has 9.4 million acres certified as sustainably managed, more than any other state — means harvesting in a way that is balanced with growth. So the renewal is continuous, and much less than the time it takes to grow a forest.
As reported last November in the Sun Journal, Booth even rejected the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis that concluded since wood-fired biomass facilities are fueled by forest byproducts, the net impact on the environment is neutral over time.
Nor does Booth acknowledge the numerous studies that have found that sustainable, low-carbon biomass can provide a significant part of the renewable energy needed to reduce emissions and transition to cleaner energy. A 2014 article in the Journal of Forestry, “Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in U.S. Bioenergy Policy,” summed up the four research-based insights “essential to understanding forest bioenergy and ‘carbon debts.’”
“As long as wood-producing land remains in forest, long-lived wood products and forest bioenergy reduce fossil fuel use and long-term carbon emission impacts.
“Increased demand for wood can trigger investments that increase forest area and forest productivity and reduce carbon impacts associated with increased harvesting.
“The carbon debt concept emphasizes short-term concerns about biogenic CO2 emissions, although it is long-term cumulative CO2 emissions that are correlated with projected peak global temperature, and these cumulative emissions are reduced by substituting forest bioenergy for fossil fuels.
“Considering forest growth, investment responses, and the radiative forcing of biogenic CO2 over a 100-year time horizon (as used for other greenhouse gases), the increased use of forest-derived materials most likely to be used for bioenergy in the United States results in low net greenhouse gas emissions, especially compared with those for fossil fuels.”
To rephrase, biomass from managed forests reduces long-term carbon dioxide emissions; markets for wood and growing forests are encouraged, and U.S. dependence on fossil fuels is reduced.
Even Booth admitted that “King usually does the right thing on climate.” She just doesn’t see or won’t admit that he is doing the right thing this time, too.
King should be praised, not denigrated for his commitment to clean, efficient, sustainable, locally grown and affordable energy.
Mark Doty is a forester and executive committee member of the Maine Forest Products Council.