Federal Policy Should Clearly Recognize the Full Carbon Benefits of Forest Bioenergy

Forest landowners are urging Congress to recognize the full carbon benefits of forest bioenergy in federal policy

The carbon benefits of renewable forest biomass are well established.

  • One hundred nationally recognized forest scientists sent a letter to EPA on November 6, 2014[1] stating the long-term carbon benefits of forest bioenergy.
  • Based on regularly collected USDA data[2], U.S. timberlands[3] are growing at more than twice the rate of harvests. The total volume of trees growing in U.S. forests has increased 50% in the past 60 years.[4]
  • Biomass markets, like other forest products markets, enable private forests to provide sustainable carbon benefits over the long term. Those private forests represent 56% of all U.S. forests which in total offset 13% of total U.S. CO2 emissions.[5]

Congress should remove uncertainty and ensure the carbon benefits of renewable forest biomass.

  • Biomass is a growing source of renewable energy, accounting for 8% of renewable electricity production.[6] Biomass is also a low-profit energy source; therefore, increasing the complexity and cost of biomass use will make it uneconomic and impractical in the marketplace.
  • Robust biomass markets help conserve forest land for rural jobs, recreational activities and wildlife protection.
  • Policy uncertainty is jeopardizing existing investments in biomass and discouraging new investment to build or upgrade facilities.
  • Legislation is needed to remove uncertainty and secure the renewable energy and carbon benefits of biomass energy. A clear policy will help state and local governments and the marketplace achieve important renewable energy and carbon objectives.

A federal policy should be simple to implement.

  • A clear and simple approach will encourage biomass energy and help forest owners afford investments in tree planting and forest health[7] that provide a full range of public benefits, including less carbon in the atmosphere.
  • A complex approach will increase cost and uncertainty, discourage the use of renewable forest biomass and reduce the value of private forests thereby encouraging their conversion to non-forest uses with reduced carbon and other public benefits.

Key elements of a simple approach to regulating biomass include:

  • Recognition that biomass energy will not increase carbon in the atmosphere so long as overall forest carbon is stable or increasing.
  • Use of U.S. Forest Inventory Analysis data and established science rather than complex modeling and assumptions.
  • Implementation on the broadest possible national scale.
  • Recognition that forest products manufacturing residuals, harvest residuals and thinnings do not increase and can even reduce overall carbon in the atmosphere.


[1] National Association of University Forest Resource Programs (NAUFRP) Letter of Transmittal to EPA including Science Fundamentals of Forest Biomass Carbon Accounting, November 6, 2014.

[2]U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory Analysis

[3]Seven-Tenths of U.S. forest lands, or 514.2 million acres of the total 751.2 million acres of forest land, are classified as timberlands. Timberlands are defined as forest lands used for the production of commercial wood products. http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/forestry.html

[4]U.S. Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment.

[5]Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2013, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (p. ES-20) (April, 2015).

[6]U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review.

[7]U.S. Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment.

Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2013, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (p. ES-20) (April, 2015).
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