Biomass energy does not get the kind of love lavished on other renewables, such as wind or solar. Biomass is more complicated, but that does not mean Congress should allow the federal government to discourage a renewable, domestically produced source of energy.
Biomass is usually wood. It also can come from other plant and animal material. The energy derives from burning it. And the questions start: Is it the best use of trees? How efficient is it? How do the emissions compare with fossil fuels? How much does it cost to produce? Are there other benefits from using biomass energy? And how carbon neutral is it?
Some of those questions are easy to answer. Some are complicated. But just because biomass energy may involve burning trees doesn’t mean the debate should stop. And in the same way, biomass shouldn’t get a pass on a careful evaluation of its impacts.
As The Oregonian reported recently, Oregon has an opportunity in biomass to show the rest of the country how it could work. Oregon’s federal forests are overcrowded with small trees that increase the risk and severity of wildfire. Thinning those forests is especially important near communities. Turning that wood into energy creates needed power and jobs.
The timber industry has called for the federal government to rule biomass energy “carbon neutral.” President Obama has threatened to veto any such bill, and environmental groups have lined up in opposition.
But the timber industry does have a point. Responsible forest policy can reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Responsible forest policy can reduce demand on imported energy. Responsible forest policy can reduce fire danger to communities. Responsible forest policy can improve the health of forests.
Biomass energy may not be free of emissions and free of controversy. But Congress should back the efforts of the Oregon delegation to explore pilot projects and recognize the benefits of biomass.