Biomass battle: Al Gore vs Greg Walden

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Greg Walden pressed Vice President Al Gore on the wisdom of not counting biomass from federal lands as a renewable energy in the major energy tax bill being pushed through Congress this spring. The battle over biomass took place at a congressional hearing on April 24, 2009.

Walden maintains that the majority leadership’s draft of the bill mandates that 25 percent of the country’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2025. The energy sources defined as “renewable” by the legislation will receive a major economic boost. Biomass from federal forests, however, is specifically omitted from the bill and will not be counted as renewable resources, unless the bill is amended.

“This legislation on page eight says woody biomass is not renewable if it comes off federal ground, period,” Walden told Vice President Gore. “On the Fremont-Winema National Forests, we have more than 200,000 acres of bug infested federal forestland. When that material comes out, why in the devil do we say it’s not renewable and can’t be turned into energy to reduce carbon emissions from coal?”

According to Walden, not one panelist during four marathon hearing sessions on the bill has been able to answer the question: “What’s the science behind this decision to say biomass from federal lands is not a renewable energy source?”

Walden plans to offer amendments next week to improve many renewable energy provisions in the bill, but he will need bipartisan support to get it done.

The biomass energy industry in Oregon has investors on the sidelines waiting for a signal from the federal government that biomass energy — specifically from the enormous supplies on federal land — and the communities that would produce it in rural Oregon are a worthy investment. Walden maintains the current bill being considered would undercut one of the remaining economic hopes in rural Oregon (Oregon is second only to Michigan in unemployment).

"This bill, if passed as currently written, would very likely have the effect of causing biomass projects to lose those potential investors," Walden said in a statement.

"In the Malheur National Forest there is a 28-year maintenance backlog on forest work, setting the table for an inevitable catastrophic wildfire. Meanwhile, the unemployment rates in the counties it covers, Grant and Harney counties, are a staggering 17.1 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively."

A 2005 Forest Service/Department of Energy report, commonly known as the “Billion Ton Report,” projects that there are over 1.3 billion dry tons per year of biomass potential.

" ... enough to produce biofuels sufficient to meet more than one-third of the nation’s current demand for transportation fuels by 2030," Walden said.

Wildfire in the United States annually spews into the atmosphere the equivalent of four to six percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to a statement released by Walden's office.

“Biomass energy production in our federal forests has the potential to prevent catastrophic wildfire, reduce global warming gasses released into the atmosphere, and put rural Oregonians back to work in areas where about one in five are currently in search of a job,” Walden said. “It needs to be a part of America’s smarter energy future.”

On Tuesday, Walden pressed Energy Secretary Steven Chu on the biomass issue. You can watch that exchange below.


Provided by the office of Congressman Greg Walden
(source: House Republican Conference)

Higher Energy Prices: The bill imposes a national cap-and-tax regime that will tax every domestic energy producer for their carbon emissions. Independent researchers, CBO, and the President all agree that this cost will be passed to consumers. Furthermore, other provisions in the bill also increase the cost of energy, such as a new federal renewable electricity standard that will likely cause electricity prices to spike.

The energy plan amounts to a $646 billion tax that will hit every American family, small business, and family farm. Estimates are that family energy costs will rise on average by more than $3,100 a year. Those hardest hit by this massive tax will be the poor — who experts agree spend a greater portion of their income on energy consumption.

Fewer Jobs: The bill does little to address the enormous loss of jobs that will ensue when U.S. industries absorb the cost of the cap-and-tax plan and other provisions, likely sending millions of American jobs overseas.

The bill would be especially damaging in Oregon, which already has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, by excluding federal biomass from the country’s renewable energy portfolio and dealing a severe blow to a very promising new industry in rural Oregon.

More Government Intrusion: The bill creates a host of new federal mandates on everything from outdoor light bulbs and table lamps to water dispensers, commercial hot food cabinets, and Jacuzzis. The bill would also increase the demand for electricity (to fuel vehicles via new transportation mandates) at the same time as the other portions of the bill cause consumer electricity costs to spike.

Representative Greg Walden represents the Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon. He is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

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