EPA rule has high stakes


The Oregonian had a good story recently about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed changes in its greenhouse gas emissions rules could threaten the burgeoning biomass industry. The EPA’s “tailoring rule” is something we’ve written about several times before, and the Oregonian does a solid job of outlining why the stakes are so high.

Biomass, or using vegetation for fuel, has basked in a green glow in recent years, winning subsidies, bipartisan political support and a renewable energy designation in Oregon and nationwide that groups it with nonpolluting solar, wave and wind power. Oregon backers are hoping wood-fired power plants will spur thinning in the state’s abundant national forests, create thousands of rural jobs and provide a domestic source of fuel.

But the industry is in its infancy, supporters say, and new EPA rules could kill it.

“Biomass energy is economically marginal,” says Thomas McLain, head of wood science and engineering at Oregon State University and one of 100-plus forestry scientists who expressed concern about the proposed EPA rules in a July letter to Senate leaders. “Anything you do to (increase) the cost means it won’t happen. It will go away.”

The story also points out that 40 biomass plants already operate in Oregon, that the U.S. Department of Energy expects biomass plants to provide 14 percent of the the country’s electricity by 2030 and that politicians from both parties have come out in support of the EPA’s backing off its rule changes.

But the future of biomass is still far from certain, which is why supporters need to continue to be as vocal as possible.

In other news, the Oregonian recently also ran dueling opinion pieces on federal timber policy. In the first piece, Ben Shelton of the Cascade Policy Institute argues that the feds should allow local control of federal forests. A few days later, David Moskowitz of WaterWatch of Oregon writes that federal forest policy in Oregon is working.