Banking on biomass and “Wood First”


U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced $30 million in federal biomass projects, just two weeks after he said the U.S. government would promote and research the use of wood as a green building material.

The departments of Agriculture and Energy will devote $30 million to the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, which will pay for 5-10 projects over the next 3-4 years. The research projects will cover not just woody biomass but also feedstock, biofuels and other farm waste.

“These projects will help to reduce America’s dependence on imported oil by accelerating the development and commercialization of cleaner, alternative fuels that can power our vehicles and our industry,” said U.S Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Producing renewable fuels from biomass right here in the United States will improve our nation’s energy security and give us an innovative edge in the global market for clean energy technologies.”

In an op-ed in the Oregonian this week, Tom Holt, the chairman of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, compliments the USDA for its stance on using wood as a green building material and says that the Oregon Legislature might take it one step further.

House Bill 3429….would direct the state of Oregon to use wood as a preferred building material. Called the Oregon “Wood First” bill, it states that for structures built with state funds after July 1, 2012, the building materials used should be — to the maximum extent possible and economically feasible — made from wood…

The Oregon bill is modeled after British Columbia’s Wood First Act, passed in October 2009. Passage by the Oregon Legislature would make the bill the first of its kind in the United States.

Holt points out that British Columbia’s Jobs Minister even flew to Salem to testify in favor of the bill. With British Columbia and Oregon leading the way on “Wood First,” it’s only a matter of time before Washington and California step to the plate.

Holt describes why “Wood First” is so critical for Oregon, but the sentiment holds true for all the states on the West Coast.

Oregon is the nation’s number one supplier of softwood lumber and plywood panels. We are among the nation’s most forested states, second only to Alaska. The forest and wood products sector makes up about 8.5 percent of Oregon’s total payroll and ranks in the top four among Oregon traded sectors — those industries producing income for goods and services sold out of state…

…Just think of the possibilities if Oregon were to become the nation’s leading advocate for wood products — more innovation, more stable markets, more jobs and a cleaner environment. The sustainable use of forests and wood products defines us as Oregonians. In this state, it just makes sense to embrace “wood first.”