With the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis releasing its Congressional action plan on climate this week, it’s worth reviewing how both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have historically supported modern wood biomass as a sustainable energy source that replaces fossil fuels and lowers carbon emissions.
This bipartisan embrace of bioenergy reflects the growing global scientific consensus on the issue echoed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leading academics, and many others.
Some of the leading voices in Washington from across the political spectrum are touting wood bioenergy:
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.”
“Good forestry practices are good for both the economy, but also the planet’s climate health. Biomass and bioenergy products can be an integral part of state’s climate protection plans that promote responsible land management and renewable energy. If done right – this approach can promote healthy forests, support local economies, and cut carbon pollution.” – Gina McCarthy
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.