Oregonians who live on the east side of the Cascade Range have become accustomed to bracing for the annual fire season. It’s a time when we collectively hold our breath and hope that the ravages of catastrophic wildfire won’t destroy private property, critical fish and wildlife habitat, or even take lives.
But what if we could be proactive to limit the potential for wildfire? Develop a solution that would restore forest health, reduce the threat of fire, generate renewable energy and create more jobs in rural Oregon? That’s exactly what a group of us has been trying to do. Unfortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is standing in the way of this collaborative solution by failing to fix its own mistake that reversed the long-standing policy on the use of biomass for renewable energy generation.
For several years now, my company has been working with the federal government, nonprofit foundations and conservation groups to restore the health of Oregon’s east-side federal forests. The work involves strategically removing forest material in areas at risk of wildfire, while also focusing on improving environmental values, such as fish and wildlife habitat. It’s the type of “win-win” solution Oregonians are known for — a collaboration that requires organizations to come together around the idea of progress, not conflict.
In order to help pay for the projects, our goal is to sell the woody debris we remove from the forest to companies generating renewable biomass energy. This is particularly important in Oregon, which just adopted a new law restricting the sale of coal-generated electricity and requiring more renewable energy generation.
But the inaction of the EPA is holding up further investment in biomass energy. More than six years after the agency acknowledged that it had mistakenly adopted policy treating biomass as a fossil fuel, the EPA has yet to correct the record. This is problematic because the state of Oregon, European Commission, United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientists around the world have all recognized biomass as a vital renewable energy source.
To end this uncertainty and provide states like Oregon clarity to move forward, a group of bipartisan members of Congress is proposing legislation to end the uncertainty on federal policy recognizing the carbon benefits of many forms of biomass. This is long overdue. Responsibly derived biomass can help alleviate our reliance on fossil fuels, but we need government policy to support that goal. Without stable policy, investment in maintaining and expanding biomass energy and more jobs in Oregon simply won’t occur. And without that biomass market, our work in restoring forest health and reducing the risk of wildfire will be constrained. Given the amount of forest restoration work we could do around Central and Eastern Oregon, allowing the EPA to continue its unproductive process after six years runs counter to the urgency of our work.
Oregon’s congressional delegation understands this, which is why it has been very supportive of both our forest restoration projects and biomass energy. We urge them to support legislation that recognizes the carbon benefits of many forms of biomass and urge the rest of their colleagues in the U.S. Congress to end the uncertainty about the future of biomass once and for all. Doing so will help us to stop simply responding to wildfires and, instead, proactively restore the health of our national forests.
— Bruce Daucsavage is president of Ochoco Lumber Co., located in Prineville.