Forest biomass is a renewable energy source that is essential to meeting our national renewable energy goals in all regions of the country. It is sustainable, helps support working forests and their many public benefits, and does not increase carbon in the atmosphere because it is part of the natural carbon cycle. The inclusion of forest biomass in energy legislation is currently being considered in the Senate.
After experiencing much consternation from voters over the passage of a “cap & trade” bill by the House in June 2009, the Senate looked as though it might take out the climate portion of their energy bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) gave the authors of the Senate’s primary version of the energy bill [Senators Kerry (D-MA), Graham (R-SC), and Lieberman (I-CT)] a deadline to find the 60 votes needed to pass the bill or the climate portion would be stripped out.
On April 21, when the Forest Landowners Association (FLA) asked its members to take action by emailing a letter to their Senators requesting that they add the Farm Bill definition of wood to this, and all, energy bills, the Kerry/Graham/Lieberman bill was headed to Senate leadership for their final edits and strategic consideration. At that time, FLA believed the Senate energy bill would be honed-down to just an energy bill. Within two days of the Senate receiving over 500 FLA-member letters, the Farm Bill definition was part of that bill.
Senator Graham (R-SC) has dropped his co-sponsorship of the bill, because he was not pleased with the attention the bill was getting by Senate leaders. Subsequently, a Kerry/Lieberman bill was released as – principally – a climate bill only; but, still carries the Farm Bill definition for woody biomass. Essentially, the bill would allow ‘renewable biomass’ to be free of carbon caps. FLA believes that this bill is unlikely to be considered as stand-alone legislation on the Senate floor this year.
Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) current focus is on Energy and Natural Resources Chair Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) energy bill as the best chance to do something on energy this year, since it is already on the Senate calendar. Unfortunately, Bingaman’s energy bill does not use the Farm Bill definition of wood. Although President Obama’s Department of Agriculture is fully and publicly in support of the Farm Bill definition, it may be a stretch to believe that the Farm Bill definition will replace the current Bingaman definition.
However, Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT), and James Risch (R-ID) are receiving praise for the introduction of new legislation to expand the use of renewable forest biomass for energy. This bill carries an FLA-supported definition of “renewable biomass.”