Forest debris as ‘gold’ –unless the U.S. says noUnited Kingdom
A promising fraction of Oregon's energy now comes from burning wood debris: slash piles on the forest floor from logging or thinning, naturally fallen and decaying trees within uncut forests, wood shavings and bark and trimmings from mill operations. The wood debris, called biomass, produces heat for buildings or electricity for lights and toasters.
Or none of the above
That depends upon a decision now before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which considers regulating the carbon dioxide released from burning biomass, a renewable energy source, just as it does coal. To do so would be a crushing blow to a fragile sector at a time we need it most.
Oregon's prolific forests -- wet ones on the west side of the Cascades, drier ones on the eastern slopes -- are loaded with biomass. Getting to this fuel can be tricky. It requires mechanical bundling and hauling by truck to a site for burning, adding to the cost of what might be considered "free" fuel. Sometimes the debris undergoes the intermediate step of grinding and compressing into fuel pellets before burning.
Yet Oregon has 40 facilities that burn biomass for heating and drying, and 14 more that also generate electricity for uploading to the grid. Burns High School, in Harney County, is among a handful burning wood pellets in a boiler for heat. The Eugene Water and Electric Board has agreed to buy biomass-generated power from a new Seneca wood-products facility in northwest Eugene.
There remains great promise here for biomass energy
Our forests need it -- the pileup of woody debris is tinder for catastrophic fire, which threatens communities and leaves scars for decades. Our towns and cities need it -- smaller biomass facilities, if distributed throughout the state, can provide jobs and help nurture economies while cutting the need for expensive hauling to a few large sites.
Moreover, our state needs it -- biomass, correctly identified by Gov. Ted Kulongoski years ago as fitting within Oregon's renewable portfolio standards, reduces fossil fuels reliance and helps to hold the line on emitting the greenhouse gas CO2.
But that's where things get tricky.
The EPA, under pressure to enforce the federal Clean Air Act, weighs whether to view all CO2 as the same no matter where it comes from -- CO2 in the exhaust of PGE's coal-fired plant in Boardman would be the same as that in the smoke from burning a fallen, beetle-infested Ponderosa pine taken from the Winema National Forest.
A downed Ponderosa pine will in this lifetime release much or all of its CO2 whether it disintegrates by weather or is burned by fire. And the tree grows back. Coal, on the other hand, locks its CO2 up until it is mined out of the ground and then burned. It doesn't return anytime soon.
Much rides on this distinction. And the EPA should snap out of its CO2 myopia by recognizing biomass as a renewable resource, which coal and fossil fuels are not. Regulating biomass facilities to the coal standard would shackle a fledgling industry with hobbling costs.
Oregon's biomass facilities are regulated now not to sully the air. Wood smoke carries especially heavy loads of airborne particulate, a pollutant linked to respiratory disease, but biomass facilities are watched to limit their releases.
If allowed to thrive and grow purposefully, "green" biomass enterprises will find new technologies for efficiencies and pollution control while at the same time putting Oregon's forests and citizens to work. That's above and beyond serving the larger goal of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.
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