US Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jim Risch (R-ID), Angus King, (I-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Susan Collins (R-ME) recently introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the use of wood-based biomass as a feedstock for producing RFS-qualified biofuels. The legislation would allow eligible wood raw materials removed from certain federal lands in need ecological restoration to be used in the making of renewable fuels to promote healthier forests, increased carbon sequestration, cleaner transportation fuels and stronger protections for old growth forests.
Current law does not allow the use of biomass removed from federal land in the making of renewable fuels as defined by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The bill would eliminate that exclusion by expanding “renewable biomass” to include wood waste and low-grade woody material for use as a biofuel feedstock. As such, the bill would create new opportunities to use smaller-diameter trees, limbs, debris, sawdust, shavings and other residual material to create new fuel sources while helping to lower wildfire risks in federal forests.
Per a press release issued by the Senators, the legislation would:
- Make it financially feasible for private landowners to remove low-value brush that impact wildlife habitats and pose fire risks
- Ensure that all mill residuals can be used for biofuels
- Help pay for projects to reduce dead and dying trees that fuel catastrophic wildfires and thin unhealthy second-growth forests
- Require biomass materials harvested from federal lands to be done so in accordance with all federal laws, regulations and land-use plans and designations
- Explicitly restrict the types of biomass materials that can be harvested from federal lands so that old growth trees and stands are protected
“Oregonians have a strong interest in using biomass as a source of renewable energy. Not only is there an opportunity for cleaner transportation fuel, this is also important for forest management and wildfire prevention,” said Wyden. “Our aim is to balance sound energy policy with sound environmental policy to ensure less carbon in the atmosphere and healthier forests.”
Details in the Bill’s Language
- Private Lands: The bill ensures private landowners have flexibility to use all slash, thinnings, and low-value logs for credits under the RFS by removing the explicit reference to fiber from tree plantations. Currently, the RFS limits the definition to only biomass from tree plantations, but—particularly in Eastern Oregon—low value, invasive trees like juniper hurt groundwater supplies, encroach on sage grouse habitat and pose wildfire risks. Without market incentives like RFS credits, removing these invasive species simply does not pencil out. This bill aims to make it more cost efficient for private landowners to remove low-value brush, like invasive juniper.
- Mill Residuals: The bill ensures that all mill residuals—like sawdust and shavings—can be used for biofuels and count for RFS credits from both federal and non-federal lands. Under current law, mill residuals can only count for RFS credits if the residuals came from authorized trees from private plantations. In the West, however, most mills use trees sourced from both public and private lands, which means sawdust and shavings are commingled and therefore ineligible for RFS credits. This bill fixes that issue.
- Federal Lands: The bill allows biomass sourced from certain federal lands to qualify for RFS credits. This change will help fund projects to reduce dead and dying trees that fuel catastrophic wildfires and helps thin out unhealthy second-growth forests. Importantly, under this new definition, biomass materials harvested from federal lands must be done in accordance with all federal laws, regulations, and land-use plans and designations. In addition, the bill prioritizes biomass removal through projects that aim to address insect and disease-ridden forests and treat areas prone to wildfires. Finally, the bill explicitly restricts the types of biomass materials that can be harvested from federal lands so that old growth trees and stands are protected
With Oregon leading the country in the transition from fossil fuel based energy sources, this bill will generate new opportunities to use small diameter trees, limbs, hazardous fuels, debris, and even sawdust at the mill to create new fuel sources, establish jobs in rural communities, and lower wildfire risks in federal forests.
“We strongly support this legislation which opens up new markets for wood – an abundant, renewable, and domestic natural resource,” said Dave Tenny, founding president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. “Healthy markets are the key to keeping our forests as forests – when forest owners can realize a return on their investment, they can replant trees, make investments to keep their forests healthy and resilient, and keep their forests intact. Healthy markets ensure that working forests can continue to provide clean air and water, abundant habitat for wildlife, and good jobs in rural communities that need them.”