The much-anticipated release of the bipartisan Senate climate bill has been delayed indefinitely. Meanwhile, environmental groups and timber industry insiders spar over biomass harvesting provisions.
With the release of the Senate climate bill delayed indefinitely, the biopower and biofuel industries will have to wait to gain key regulatory support from Congress.
Carbon regulation has the potential to carve out markets for cleantech products and drive demand for bioenergy in lieu of fossil fuels. Regulatory uncertainty around climate change has made it difficult for the bioenergy project developers to plan with a price on carbon in mind (see GHGs on the Run: the Regulatory Endgame After Copenhagen).
A key issue at the heart of the Senate climate bill is how the harvest of forest materials for biomass-power production in the bill’s renewable-energy sections will be treated.
According to Greenwire, nearly 100 forestry organizations urged Senators Kerry (D-MA), Graham (R-SC), and Lieberman (I-CT) this week to place no limits on the harvest of biomass from private property.
Dan Whiting, spokesman for the National Alliance of Forest Owners, argues that the imposition of new biomass regulations on the industry would add costs and discourage the harvest of forest wastes:
If you start layering on new regulations and sustainability standards, landowners are just not going to participate because at some point it won’t be profitable. If there’s not a market for those trees, they’re going to use that land for something else.
Whiting added that the Senate bill should maximize opportunities for private foresters to sell timber products, or else landowners will find it more profitable to sell their properties to developers.
The House-passed climate bill (“ACES”) contains several incentives for biomass harvesting, including a renewable energy standard and a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions that would not require biomass-electricity plants to buy emission credits.
Environmental groups warn the biomass incentives contained in both the House and Senate versions of the climate bill could become massive drivers of deforestation without safeguards like sustainability certifications. This so-called “carbon leakage” is one of the pitfalls for the biomass and biofuel industries relying on a boost from carbon regulation (see Biomass Blunder: Cap-and-Trade and Carbon Leakage).
But the timber industry maintains that markets for forest products are one of the key drivers for conservation.
More on the debate over biomass provisions in the Senate climate bill.
Image: Flickr/Christopher Wenger