Stalled federal policy hurts NH biomass

As the second most forested state in the nation, New Hampshire has long recognized the important role woody biomass (mainly forest thinnings and wood waste from forests) energy can play by diversifying its energy mix, providing clean and renewable power and providing local jobs while benefiting the environment.

The importance of biomass is acknowledged in several policies, including New Hampshire’s official Climate Action Plan (adopted in 2009). The plan calls for harnessing forest-sourced biomass in “production of electricity [and] heating residential and public buildings…[while employing] sustainable forest management principles.” 

Unfortunately, stalled action on policy in Washington threatens to undermine this policy and reduce New Hampshire and America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put policies like ours effectively on hold by announcing they will regulate forest-sourced biomass the same as fossil fuels. In addition to ignoring the science showing the carbon benefits of sustainably harvested biomass (including the retention of land as forests, thus making it available to absorb carbon), this action also threatens an important tenet to sustainable forest management — promote healthier forests by removing the low-grade timber through timber stand improvement and forest thinnings. 

Although EPA’s policy was suspended in 2011 pending the findings of a EPA scientific review board, that board adjourned without a recommendation. The result has meant continued or even increasing uncertainty and doubt around investments in biomass power, and sustainable biomass harvests. 

Looking beyond the environmental benefits, it is important to understand that biomass power supports timberland ownership and, by extension, our rural economies. The strong markets for biomass products enables timberland owners to sustainably manage their properties, and it’s well known that long-term private owners of land are the best stewards. It contributes to making timberland ownership economically viable.

These woody biomass markets also benefit lumber mills needing a home for their sawdust and slabs. And all of these sales contribute to maintaining local jobs and the state’s economy while providing a local renewable energy source that is better for the environment than fossil-fuel alternatives.

Citing the most comprehensive survey of related peer-reviewed literature ever undertaken in the United States, a group of 100 leading forestry scientists from around the country has stated flatly and repeatedly in letters to the government that “demand for wood helps keep land in forest and incentivizes investments in new and more productive forests, all of which have significant carbon benefits.” 

Yet confusion and indecision in our nation’s capital has put a giant question mark over what would otherwise be a win for the environment, jobs and the economy as a whole. 

It looks as though the new Congress will have a very busy legislative schedule. Fortunately, New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has been advocating for passage of biomass legislation that would end indecision in an area where there should have been no confusion in the first place.

Biomass legislation should be a priority to help protect the 7,756 jobs throughout New Hampshire’s timber supply chain that depend on the continued economic strength of our forest owners and those who buy their products. 

Jameson French is president and CEO of Northland Forest Products Inc., Kingston.

Categories: Opinion