July 1, 2009

Ag and Forestry Provisions in Waxman/Markey ACES bill

The Waxman/Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) narrowly passed through the House vote on June 26. It would not have passed if the authors had failed to accede to the amendments insisted upon by Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN). What are the provisions?

Below is a condensed explanation of the key provisions agreed to by bill sponsor Henry Waxman (D-CA) as reported by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). Aside from securing approximately support of 45 Democrats who would have voted against the bill without the compromise, the ACES bill is much more likely to achieve its stated objective of creating more green jobs, stimulating investment and local economies, and contributing to greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Should these provisions survive Senate deliberations, it also would reverse the polarizing language of the 2007 EISA which severely reduced the availability of qualifying biomass feedstock for bioenergy projects.

Democrats Strike Deal With Agriculture on Climate Bill

On June 23, Democrats in the House of Representatives announced that they had reached a deal on several key agricultural concerns in the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) (H.R. 2454). The deal, struck with Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and bill sponsor Henry Waxman (D-CA), included the following key provisions:

1) The agricultural and forestry sectors will be fully exempted from carbon emissions caps.

2) Oversight of the domestic agricultural and forestry offsets program would be moved from the EPA to the USDA. Under these provisions, farmers could sell carbon credits in exchange for practices that reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions or store carbon in the soil and vegetation. Supporters believe that the USDA is in a better position to implement such a program effectively, while critics fear that the USDA will be more lax than the EPA in determining which practices actually reduce carbon emissions. For the time being, the role of the EPA in implementing the offsets program will remain undefined, subject to future guidance from the Obama administration.

3) The renewable fuel standard in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires the EPA to conduct a life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to indirect land use changes around the world caused by the production of biofuels in the United States. Under the agreement, this assessment would be put on hold for the next five years while the National Academy of Sciences conducts a study of the scientific basis and methodologies used in conducting such assessments.

4) The definition of renewable biomass would be expanded to include a much larger portion of available woody biomass on both federal and non-federal lands, and the definition of renewable biomass would be similarly amended for purposes of implementing the renewable fuel standard.

President Obama spoke in favor of the bill on Tuesday, saying it “will spark a clean energy transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet.”



Over the past two years, EESI has undertaken a project to assess the state of woody biomass utilization and to develop a suite of policy recommendations intended to promote woody biomass as part of the sustainable forestry paradigm.

After soliciting the opinions of a diverse group of foresters, researchers, NGOs, civic officials, as well as forest industry stakeholders, EESI has put together a well-documented policy paper that is balanced in the areas of environmental, economic, and soclal sustainability.
Although sustainability should be a cornerstone of federal biomass policy, it is important that federal laws and programs do not include highly prescriptive (or proscriptive) rules for where biomass can be harvested, for what purposes, or in what quantities.

It includes a call to evaluate the true comparative costs of various energy paradigm solutions whereby the lifecycle assessment of new approaches are compared not only with each other, but also with a fair assessment of costs and liabilities of the current fossil paradigm.

To view the entire policy paper written by EESI veteran Jesse Caputo, go to Sustainable Forest Biomass: Promoting Renewable Energy and Forest Stewardship.

Advanced Wood Combustion: Rekindling Wood Energy in America

Opened in February 2009, the new biomass power plant at Vermont's Middlebury College is expected to burn 20,000 tons of wood chips each year to provide heat and electricity for the campus.

The plant uses an "advanced wood combustion" system. Such plants hold great potential to save energy, cut costs, and even fight global warming, a March 2009 study says.

Photograph by Brett Simison, courtesy Middlebury College

Daniel Richter is professor of soils and forest ecology at Duke University and Director of Graduate Studies for Duke’s interdepartmental University Program in Ecology. His research investigates forest sustainability, biogeochemistry, interactions of soil and forests with the wider environment, and global soil change.

Below are excerpts from an article he wrote recently for Renewable Energy World.com about advanced wood combustion (AWC) and its promise for helping understand the intertwining of the carbon cycle and combustion - and how we can efficiently tap that energy for fuels, power, steam, and heat.

Rekindling Wood Energy in America - Renewable Energy World

One of the largest sources of renewable energy available today is one of the oldest, that is direct combustion of wood. Recent European developments in advanced wood combustion (AWC, defined as automated, high-efficiency wood-fired energy systems with strict air pollution control) have wood supplying thermal and electrical energy cleanly and reliably to thousands of communities in Europe and increasingly in North America. AWC minimizes air pollutants including fossil greenhouse gases.

AWC is so clean and safe that AWC systems are commonly deployed in the midst of picture-perfect European towns and villages. Because AWC systems can be developed in community-sized increments of 0.1 to 20 MWth, they can be managed to meet community needs and not overwhelm the productivity of local woodsheds.

Wood in the United States is several-fold less expensive per unit of energy compared with natural gas or heating oil ($2 to 5 per GJ vs $7 to 10 per GJ for recent USA prices of natural gas and heating oil). If properly deployed, AWC systems can not only affordably supply clean and renewable energy, AWC can add value to the forest itself, promote community development, and support local employment and rural and municipal economies. AWC can complement other renewable energy resources as well.

It is now time for AWC and renewable thermal energy sources to take center stage in North American energy deliberations. Not only can wood safely and affordably supply energy, but wood can teach us much about energy in general, energy-use efficiency, and sustainability itself.

No one renewable will solve our energy crisis, not solar, not wind, not wood. But recent multi-agency estimates indicate that AWC can sustainably supply at least 5% of the nation’s currently inefficient energy consumption without impacting forests that are protected for environmental, social, or economic reasons. This is more energy that that stored in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, more than what all American hydro-power plants produce in a year, and slightly more than half of the electric energy produced annually by the entire nuclear industry.

Wood is abundant but is far too valuable to inefficiently burn. Resource policy questions should turn on how to encourage wood-energy efficiency, community development and sustainability, and how to avoid extracting wood from the forest like coal from a mine.