EPA’s biomass decision resonates in Washington

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared this week that woody biomass is carbon neutral, a decision that echoes a move by Washington state lawmakers ten years ago to declare woody biomass as a clean energy source.

In 2008, state lawmakers passed a law declaring that emissions from woody biomass are not considered a greenhouse gas, as long as the region maintains or increases its ability to sequester carbon dioxide through sustainable forestry.

Washington’s forest landowners are committed to sustainable forestry. On average, state forest landowners replant within 18 months, three trees for every one harvested. Sustainably managed forests that are periodically harvested, planted and regrown to produce a continuing series of products and energy fuel sequester and offset more cumulative carbon than forests that are left unharvested.

The 2008 law passed by the Legislature meant Washington had taken clear action on the use of biomass as a renewable energy source, and the state expected to integrate sustainable forestry into its renewable energy strategies.

For instance, Gov. Jay Inslee relied on the law in 2014 when he granted $200,000 to Skamania County’s Wind River Biomass Utility to spur development of clean energy from wood biomass fuel, create jobs in rural timber communities, and help reduce forest fires and greenhouse gas emissions.

Gov. Inslee during the grant announcement:

“Enabling clean, renewable heat and power generation from forest biomass not only creates jobs and economic activity in our timber-dependent communities, it supports our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase treatment of our forested lands for health and fire reduction.”

However, until this week, the federal government had not recognized woody biomass as a clean energy source like Washington did. This created uncertainty for the forestry industry.

Now forest landowners have the certainty they’ve wanted for nearly a decade.

The National Alliance for Forest Owners (NAFO) quickly weighed in on the EPA’s decision this week.

Healthy markets – like biomass – ensure that working forests can continue to provide jobs, clean air, clean water, and abundant habitat for wildlife.

“Policy uncertainty means uncertain investment in the future of our forests. When policy limits markets, it puts economic pressure on forest owners. That not only threatens jobs, but it also puts our forests at risk, jeopardizing our water, our air and our wildlife,” said Dave Tenny, founding CEO of NAFO. “Recognizing that forest biomass in the U.S. provides a carbon neutral source of renewable energy will encourage landowners to replant trees to keep our forests healthy and intact and provide good paying jobs well into the future.”

As NAFO points out, private forest landowners now have another market they can rely on for their trees, which ensures that more private forests will remain as forests.

Policy clarity on biomass supports markets that enable private forest owners to make significant investments needed to replant trees, maintain roads, and prevent fire, insect infestation and disease – investments that often total millions of dollars. As private forest owners continue to invest in their forests, they face uncertainty about future markets for their wood.

“Our forests clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, provide healthy homes for all kinds of wildlife, and create jobs for people within our communities,” said Wanda Barrs, (a family forest landowner in Georgia). “However, we can’t keep our forests just because we love all they provide. Like any other sustainable business, the forests we manage, which benefit everyone, must provide a competitive economic return.”