Climate activists are opposing a provision in the $1.7 trillion omnibus government spending bill that would label burning wood for energy as “carbon neutral” after Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine worked to secure it.
The bill, which must pass to avoid a government shutdown, directs agencies to “establish clear and simple policies” for forest biomass as an energy source, including initiatives that “reflect the carbon neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source.”
The omnibus provision included the same language that Collins has helped put in government funding bills since 2017, Christopher Knight, a spokesman for Collins, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“With the balance of power so slim in the Senate, Republicans like Susan Collins can easily swing this sort of deal,” Laura Haight, U.S. policy director at the Partnership for Policy Integrity, an environmental nonprofit that opposes biomass fuels, told E&E News. “We can only hope the Environmental Protection Agency sticks to the science of biomass, not the politics.”
Burning wood as biomass releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change by warming the planet. However, plants that are burned to produce bioenergy can capture almost the same amount of CO2 through photosynthesis while growing as is released when biomass is burned, which can make biomass a carbon-neutral energy source, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
“Biomass energy is sustainable, responsible, renewable, and economically significant as an energy source, and many states, including Maine, are already relying on biomass to meet their renewable energy goals,” Knight said. “Recognizing the carbon neutrality of biomass not only aligns with the science, but also encourages investments in working forests, harvesting operations, bioenergy, wood products, and paper manufacturing.”
More than 100 climate groups, including the Partnership for Policy Integrity, sent letters to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy and House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro urging them to get rid of the rider that will define biomass as carbon-neutral fuel.
Burning wood pellets as a fuel to produce electricity emits more greenhouse gas emissions than it offsets, and standalone biomass power plants emit more carbon from power plant stacks than coal-fired power plants per megawatt hour, according to a report produced by Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmentalist nonprofit.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not count CO2 released from biomass burning in its energy-related emissions reporting, according to the EIA.
Logging and paper production is one of Maine’s top industries and its forest products industry was responsible for more than $8 billion in economic impacts and nearly 32,000 associated jobs in 2019, according to a 2o21 University of Maine study.
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