EPA standing in the way


The Oregonian’s opinion pages have been burning up this year with compelling debate on working forests, federal and state timber policy and the future of the timber industry. This month is no different.

Earlier this month, the Oregonian editorial board wrote about the promise of biomass for the state’s economy and how it could all be threatened by a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule change that would treat biomass just like coal and fossil fuels.

There remains great promise here for biomass energy.

Our forests need it — the pileup of woody debris is tinder for catastrophic fire, which threatens communities and leaves scars for decades. Our towns and cities need it — smaller biomass facilities, if distributed throughout the state, can provide jobs and help nurture economies while cutting the need for expensive hauling to a few large sites.

Moreover, our state needs it — biomass, correctly identified by Gov. Ted Kulongoski years ago as fitting within Oregon’s renewable portfolio standards, reduces fossil fuels reliance and helps to hold the line on emitting the greenhouse gas CO2.

But the federal rule change, called the “tailoring rule,” is a huge obstacle, the editorial said:

…(T)he EPA should snap out of its CO2 myopia by recognizing biomass as a renewable resource, which coal and fossil fuels are not. Regulating biomass facilities to the coal standard would shackle a fledgling industry with hobbling costs…

…If allowed to thrive and grow purposefully, “green” biomass enterprises will find new technologies for efficiencies and pollution control while at the same time putting Oregon’s forests and citizens to work. That’s above and beyond serving the larger goal of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

The editorial then spurred dueling op-eds in the Oregonian this week. Lisa Arkin with the Oregon Toxics Alliance argued not very convincingly that biomass is actually not the future of Oregon’s rural economy. She even cited the discredited Manomet study out of Massachusetts, which gives you a sense of her knowledge on the issue.

At the end of her op-ed, Arkin undermines the basis of her whole argument and acknowledges that biomass may indeed be the future of Oregon’s economy.

If we are to go down this path, Oregon residents must call upon our elected officials to require reasonable safeguards, starting with a complete state environmental impact report, carbon life-cycle accounting, and compliance with future, tighter Clean Air Act mandates.

In the other op-ed, Matt Donegan of Forest Capital Partners argued that President Obama — who visited Portland this week — should reverse the proposed E.P.A. tailoring rule.

First, it will promote job creation, particularly in rural areas. The energy sector is an emerging marketplace benefitting existing mills and the jobs associated with them. The potential to keep these mills operating by producing energy on site or providing biomass for new power facilities is one reason why Obama’s secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, views biomass energy as vital to his rural revitalization goals.

Second, it’s necessary to keep Oregon on track to meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard targets of producing 25 percent of our energy — enough to power more than 1 million homes — from renewable sources by 2025. Unlike wind and solar, biomass provides energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Today, nearly half of Oregon’s renewable energy is derived from biomass.

Finally, it will maintain a sustainable use of our forests supported by forest businesses and the environmental community alike. Markets for biomass are fundamental to proposed ecosystem restoration on our federal lands, and they conserve the economic value of private lands, which help to preserve them as working forests as opposed to opening them up to development or other non-forest uses.

It’s time for the E.P.A.  to reverse course. The timber industry is on the cusp of an exciting new technology that is both good for the environment and the economy, and the federal government is standing in the way.