Earlier this week the White House unveiled its Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda (Agenda) laying out specific actions and policies supporting President Obama's Climate Action Plan. Forest owners welcomed the Administration's recognition of the significant contributions forests and forest products make toward our nation's climate solution. The Agenda effectively knits together the established carbon benefits of wood construction and biomass energy markets with tax and data collection policies that, combined, sustain the economic viability of working forests and the substantial climate benefits they provide. In short, it shows the Administration "gets it" - working forests work for the climate.
Yet, lurking behind the positive announcement from the White House is the lingering uncertainty about how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will treat working forests in forthcoming policies.
Although the White House’s Agenda is the latest in a series of government positions endorsing the climate benefits of forest biomass, EPA has yet to resolve the uncertainty it created a few years ago on how the Agency will treat biomass in its rules and permits. EPA cannot delay any further. In parallel to the White House Agenda, EPA is moving forward to respond quickly to a recent Supreme Court decision that begs the biomass question to be answered. EPA is also moving quickly on regulations for existing power plants that put the biomass issue front and center. EPA cannot delay a final decision any further, and must act now with certainty given these pending decisions.
Simply put, a biomass misstep on either of these decisions would impede progress on the White House's Agenda. As long as the EPA biomass question remains unanswered, the efficacy of the rest of the Administration's forest carbon agenda is in doubt. EPA is the agency that creates the binding rules implementing the Administration’s policy.
EPA has assembled a significant administrative record over the past four years clearly establishing the science, policy and legal underpinnings for declaring the carbon benefits of biomass energy and working forests. Over the next several weeks the agency should seize this significant opportunity to put an exclamation point on the White House Agenda by declaring once and for all that biomass energy is carbon beneficial and part of the climate solution in each of the agency's pending policies.
In order for EPA to do this, it must keep its policies clear and simple. They must clearly state the carbon benefits of biomass and working forests without equivocation. They must also use simple approaches to measure and apply those benefits. Anything short of this will perpetuate the pall the agency cast over working forests four years ago when it declared in error that biomass should be treated the same as fossil fuels.
Forest owners are hopeful that EPA will do the right thing. Administrator McCarthy has indicated repeatedly her support for biomass and working forests. The White House has given the EPA both clear direction that working forests are a critical part of the climate change solution and a signal to remove the biomass question mark once and for all. It's time for the agency to step on the accelerator and demonstrate that it also "gets it" by quickly bringing its policies into full alignment with the rest of the Administration.