Walden bill would create a new source of biofuels

Woody biomass from federal forestlands could be used to develop cellulosic ethanol under legislation reintroduced Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and a Democratic colleague.

The Renewable Biofuels Facilitation Act, also reintroduced by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., would broaden the definition of cellulosic ethanol within the renewable fuels standard to include biomass gathered from federal lands as well as private forests.

The bill would allow brush, small trees and other forest thinnings from federal hazardous fuels reduction projects to be used for biomass energy production. Such projects from southwestern Oregon alone could produce huge amounts of biomass while reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires to rural communities, analysts say.

Any biomass projects on federal land would have to comply with all federal environmental laws.

The two representatives, who originally introduced the bill last year, say it addresses a flaw in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. That legislation included a historic 36 billion gallon renewable fuels standard, of which 21 billion gallons are required to be derived from advanced biofuels by 2022.

However, the law's definition of renewable biomass prevents almost all federal land biomass from counting toward the mandate if it is used to manufacture biofuels.

"Our bipartisan legislation would give the country a better chance of reaching its goal of producing 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels a year by 2022—enough to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 20 coal-fired electricity plants," Walden said in a prepared statement.

"There's technology out there to turn woody biomass from forest health treatments in our choked forests into clean fuel, a process that would create good paying jobs and a healthier environment at the same time," he added.

The legislation will help diversify the nation's energy portfolio, according to Herseth Sandlin.

"While the energy bill took tremendous strides to decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy, not allowing biofuels made from certain types of biomass to count toward the RFS hinders the potential benefits of the landmark legislation," she said.

The bill, reintroduced Wednesday, also would help forest health efforts as well as boost economic development in the surrounding communities, she said.

In addition to Walden and Herseth Sandlin, other cosponsors include Democrats U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Bart Stupak of Michigan and Mike Ross of Arkansas, and Republicans Jo Ann Emerson of Virginia and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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