Bill allows fuel made from federal biomass to qualify under RFS

By Erin Voegele | May 23, 2019

Sens Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced bipartisan legislation May 22 that aims to allow biomass from certain federal lands that are in need of ecological restoration to be used to make biofuels eligible for Renewable Fuel Standard compliance.

Under current law, federal biomass cannot be used as feedstock for biofuel production under the RFS. The bill introduced by Wyden and Merkley would eliminate that exclusion by updating the definition of “renewable biomass” to better capture discarded and low-value wood waste for use as biofuel feedstock.

According to the senators, the bill creates new opportunities to use small diameter trees, limbs, hazardous fuels, debris, and sawdust to create new fuel sources. It also supports job growth in rural communities and will help lower the risk of wildfire in federal forests.

The legislation requires biomass materials harvested from federal lands to be done so in accordance with all federal laws, regulations, and land-use plans and designations. It also explicitly restricts the types of biomass materials that can be harvested from federal lands so that old growth trees and stands are protected.

Information released by the senators indicates the legislation makes it financially feasible for private landowners to remove low-value brush that impact wildlife habitats and pose fire risks. It also ensures that all mill residuals, such as sawdust and shavings, can be used for biofuel production. In addition, it helps pay for projects to reduce deal and dying trees that fuel catastrophic wildfires and those to help thin out unhealthy second-growth forests.

“Oregonians have a strong interest in using biomass as a source of renewable energy. Not only is there an opportunity for cleaner transportation fuel, this is also important for forest management and wildfire prevention,” Wyden said. “Our aim is to balance sound energy policy with sound environmental policy to ensure less carbon in the atmosphere and healthier forests.”

“Oregonians have experienced how severe wildfires compromise the health and economies of our communities,” Merkley added. “We must be proactive in making sure we are doing everything we can to manage our forests responsibly and reduce the risk of these catastrophic fires. This legislation is a step forward in supporting the long-term health of our forests, while also protecting old growth forests, safeguarding against clearcutting, and creating jobs.”

The bill, S. 1614, was introduced May 22 and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. To date, Sens. James Risch, R-Idaho; Angus King, I-Maine; Mike Crapo, D-Idaho; and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have signed on to cosponsor the legislation.

Additional information, including a full copy of the bill and a one-page summary, are available on Wyden’s website.