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U.S. Senator Highlights Legislation Protecting Biomass Jobs in Maine

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According to a release by U.S. Senator Angus King’s (Ind. – Maine) Office, Washington, D.C., USA, a new bill would definitively categorize sustainably-harvested biomass, which supports thousands of jobs in Maine, as carbon neutral under the Presidential Administration’s new plan to curb carbon emissions

As the Environmental Protection Agency continues to implement its Clean Power plan without any definitive guidance for the treatment of biomass, U.S. Senator Angus King visited Sappi North America in Westbrook this past week, a biomass-utilizing pulp and paper producer that employs more than 300 people, to highlight legislation he recently introduced that would protect the renewable energy resource and the thousands of jobs it supports across Maine.

"The Administration seems to be moving in the right direction when it comes to acknowledging the benefits of biomass, but it still hasn’t taken any conclusive action to ensure that it will designate biomass as carbon neutral – and that uncertainty can hurt companies like Sappi that rely on biomass to help power its operations," Senator King said. "Biomass is widely regarded as a clean, renewable energy source and my legislation would ensure that it’s recognized as such under the President’s Clean Power Plan so that Maine can continue to take advantage of its benefits and put people to work in related industries."

In June 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan, an initiative that sets federal standards for states to achieve a 30% reduction in carbon pollution from the power sector by 2030. However, in considering sources of carbon emission, the EPA did not definitively address biomass, a renewable resource that is most often the limbs or tops of harvested trees.

In Maine, sustainable forest biomass comprises roughly 25% of the state’s total energy production. The industry employs approximately 1,300 direct and associated workers and contributes between $100 and $200 million a year to the state’s economy, according to the Biomass Power Association. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, biomass, when sustainably harvested, forest biomass has the potential to greatly reduce carbon emissions and help further end U.S. dependence on foreign oil. 

At Sappi, which Senator King toured this week, biomass is utilized as a significant source of energy to generate the electricity that powers its paper and pulp production facilities and that also feeds back into the grid. The mill also uses hydropower to generate electricity locally, which it, too, feeds back to the grid. Senator King toured Sappi’s utilities complex and surveyed the biomass chip delivery and storage site as well as the biomass boiler.

Although the EPA has indicated that the agency may consider biomass emissions as carbon neutral, it has not promulgated any rules that would provide certainty needed for states or the forest products industry. To address that, the Working Forests for Clean Energy Act would provide a straightforward standard to account for carbon emissions from biomass sources. Under the legislation, provided that a federal analysis determines that forest stocks are stable or increasing, biomass emissions would then be considered carbon neutral. Additionally, biomass derived from mill or harvest residuals, or waste from forest management activities, would also be considered carbon neutral. The standard will provide certainty to states and the forest products industry, helping ensure that a diverse market for domestic forest products can continue while also safeguarding against the widespread harvesting of forests to create electricity without any regard to the sustainability of the stock. 

Earlier this year, Senator King also reintroduced the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act of 2015, legislation that incentivizes the development of biomass as an affordable, clean, and home-grown source of energy. Specifically, the bill would amend the federal tax code to incentivize biomass energy through tax credits for capital costs incurred in residential and commercial installations. Tax incentives already exist for other forms of renewable energy and this bill seeks to achieve parity between those renewable systems and thermal biomass systems.

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