While several European countries and leading global climate authorities have garnered headlines for embracing wood bioenergy as part of their plans to lower carbon emissions and fight climate change, it’s important to note this is not just a European phenomenon. Support for wood bioenergy is growing in the United States and is now gaining attention from top American governmental institutions and elected leaders.
House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
Wood bioenergy has most recently been embraced by the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which in June released its long-awaited Action Plan to solve the climate crisis and get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The plan specifically recognizes a role for wood bioenergy in this net-zero transition. It highlights how Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is critical “to achieve carbon removal” at scale and recognizes biomass and wood products as “natural climate solutions,” calling for increased support for such technologies that help decarbonize the economy and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
2019 Appropriations Bill
In a major appropriations bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law last December, Congress once again included language recognizing the “full benefits of the use of forest biomass for energy” and noted that forest biomass is a renewable “energy solution.” The appropriations bill passed the House and the Senate with strong bipartisan support.
In June 2020, House Ways and Means Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee Chairman Mike Thompson (CA-05) and 47 Democratic Cosponsors introduced the GREEN Act, which aims to address the climate crisis through tax code changes that expand renewable energy use. As the Biomass Power Association explains, this act “offers a long-term tax credit extension and a direct pay option to biomass power projects – features that will help bring biomass projects online.”
Letter from Democratic Members to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
In November 2019, 14 Democratic Members of Congress wrote a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) expressing their “support for provisions related to biomass energy that support healthy forest management and the forest products industry.” The Democratic members noted that, “Biomass energy is a sustainable, responsible, renewable, and economically significant energy source that can help us meet our alternative energy goals.”
U.S. Congressional Research Service
In April 2020, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the nonpartisan think tank run by the U.S. Library of Congress that provides nonpartisan policy and legal analysis to Congress, published a new report on forest carbon. The report highlights the positive role played by forestry – and US forests – in storing carbon to mitigate climate change. The report explicitly noted the use of wood products as one of three “primary strategic approaches for optimizing forest carbon sequestration and storage.” The CRS also recommended the use of wood as a substitute for fossil fuels.
Prominent Government Leaders
Prominent current and former government leaders in the United States have embraced wood bioenergy. These officials include:
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
2016 and 2020 presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders praised Middlebury College for embracing wood biomass energy. Senator Sanders has also highlighted Europe’s use of wood pellets, and includes biomass as “an important part of the energy revolution.”
Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA)
Washington Governor Jay Inslee – whose 2020 presidential campaign was centered on the need to address climate change – has praised both the economic and carbon reduction benefits of wood bioenergy. Governor Inslee stated that, “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.”
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Biomass Magazine reported in March that Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has filed an energy bill amendment that would benefit biomass by expanding tax credits for efficient biomass thermal boilers and furnaces.
“The amendment offered by Wyden addresses expiring energy tax policies by expanding incentives for clean transportation, electricity and energy efficiency,” Biomass Magazine explains. “Wyden’s amendment would also extend the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC). Under current law, taxpayers can claim a PTC worth up to 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity produced from qualifying renewable resources, including biomass.”
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins has said that, “Wood biomass is a cost-effective, renewable, and environmentally friendly source of energy that helps individuals heat their homes in the winter months and creates jobs here in Maine.”
Senator Angus King (I-ME)
Maine Senator Angus King, an Independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, has also embraced biomass, saying that, “By incentivizing biomass options, we can lower energy costs, further our independence from fossil fuels, leverage the use of Maine’s natural resources, and strengthen our economy.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is a strong supporter of biomass. She has called biomass “a greatly underutilized energy source in the U.S.” and has joined forces with Senators Collins and King to cosponsor pro-biomass legislation.
Representative Peter Welch (D-VT)
Vermont Democratic Representative Peter Welch has supported biomass, stating that it “will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and spur Vermont’s local wood fuel industry.”
Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA)
Pennsylvania Republican Representative Mike Kelly has also praised the biomass industry for “supporting the creation of jobs, reducing energy costs, and benefiting the environment.”
Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR)
Congressman Bruce Westerman has praised wood bioenergy as a necessary component in our all-in renewable energy strategy. Westerman wrote in a recent op-ed in the Hill that, “Bioenergy must be part of an all-in strategy to reduce emissions and develop alternative fuels. Other countries are ahead of us here. In Europe, for example, biomass represents more than 60 percent of renewable energy consumption and is widely seen as part of the strategy for meeting ambitious carbon reduction goals.”
Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture under President Barack Obama)
In 2016, Secretary Tom Vilsack penned a letter praising “the sustainability of U.S. forests and the U.S. wood pellet industry.” He noted that “the U.S. wood pellet industry increases our forested area, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and improves U.S. forest management practices.” Secretary Vilsack also highlighted the carbon reduction benefits of wood bioenergy, writing that, “Biomass generation provides significant greenhouse gas benefits to the UK, due to reduced fossil fuel combustion. In addition, demand for wood pellets also delivers compelling carbon and societal benefits to the United States.” Read Secretary Vilsack’s full letter here.
Wood biomass is a critical tool in the fight to displace fossil fuels and tackle global climate change, and it is reassuring to see that in this era of increasing partisanship, both sides can agree that we need biomass now more than ever.
Gina McCarthy (President of the NRDC, EPA Administrator under President Barack Obama)
While leading the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Obama, Gina McCarthy was a strong supporter of renewable biomass energy and sustainable forestry. McCarthy has specifically praised renewable wood energy, stating in November 2015 that when done right, biomass “can promote healthy forests, support local economies, and cut carbon pollution.”