Westerman pushing to make it easier to burn trees for energy | Arkansas Blog

Friday, April 29, 2016

Westerman pushing to make it easier to burn trees for energy

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 2:02 PM

Energy and Environment Daily reports on efforts by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman to get federal law to encourage burning of tree material (biomass)  to produce electricity.

He's heading the new Working Forests Caucus that wants to declare biomass carbon-neutral to encourage the use of wood for energy production.

So far, the Obama administration hasn't been willing to say woody biomass is carbon-neutral. Without that designation, U.S. EPA can say the consumption of woody biomass adds more carbon to the atmosphere than it sequesters, at least in the short term. EPA scientists say the time necessary to renew forests and the resources needed to harvest and ship them make woody biomass more of a carbon generator than the industry acknowledges.

On the other hand, forest advocates say timberland is constantly being renewed, rather than all being chopped down and replanted at once. In areas where forest growth rates are faster than harvest rates, forest biomass should be considered carbon-neutral, the American Forest and Paper Association argues.
In addition to broadening the market generally for Arkansas's abundant timber, this push could have a direct impact on a new mill announced near Arkadelphia. Sun Paper, a Chinese corporation, is getting tens of millions in direct and indirect assistance from Arkansas to build a pulp mill and biomass mill.

After the announcement, I asked the Arkansas Economic Development Department about the extent of Sun Paper's plans for electricity generation at the mill against pulp production and what the state knew about potential air quality issues. Scott Hardin replied:

We don’t have an idea on the percentages at this point. The company will now start applying for permits through AEDQ and once that process and the construction specs are finalized, we will have specifics on the facility’s production capacities.

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