New biomass market data will inform EPA’s greenhouse gas rule amendments

Good policy requires good information. As the EPA prepares amendments to its 2010 greenhouse gas regulations (Tailoring Rule) to address biomass carbon emissions, it is important that the agency’s analysis be informed by current information reflecting how the biomass energy world has changed since 2010. Today NAFO published a new report explaining the impact of bioenergy development on sustainable forestry in the U.S.

What prompted the report? Raised eyebrows when we reviewed the projected impacts of biomass energy development on forest resources in the U.S. Forest Service’s 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment (RPA) released earlier this year. The RPA is a snapshot of forest conditions and trends in the U.S. However, the outlook in the RPA is heavily influenced by when the snapshot is taken. In this case biomass energy projections were based on an outlook in 2010 that was far different than today.

The RPA appropriately reports that high land values for development and other competing uses are reducing forestland in some areas of the country thereby reducing carbon storage in private forests. However, the RPA also bases a portion of the loss of carbon storage in private forests on an unrealistic projected increase in demand for wood bioenergy that is many times higher than even the most optimistic projections in 2013.

To remedy this we called upon market experts to work with the Forest Service to review the RPA projections and provide an updated outlook based on market conditions in 2013. The result? Today’s projections reveal the vast majority of wood use by 2023 will still be for traditional forest products such as lumber, paper, composites and other products while domestic and offshore forest bioenergy will account for somewhere between 4 and 9 percent of overall wood use in the U.S.

The experts found no viable scenario generating wood demand levels at the regional or national level reducing net forest growth. In other words, our private forests are more than capable of continuing the triple bottom line of supporting existing and emerging markets while continuing to store net carbon through sustainable forest management. In fact, international experts predict that new markets like bioenergy will promote rather than discourage more forest growth and result in more rather than less net carbon in our forests over the long term.

The refreshed information published today should help EPA craft amendments to the Tailoring Rule based on accurate market data. The data show what they always show – that markets support private working forests and the considerable carbon benefits they provide. EPA would be wise to apply this premise in the weeks ahead.

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