The American Power Act, the energy / climate bill unveiled yesterdayby Senators Kerry and Lieberman (and not Graham), is a complex 900+ page bill that will attract a lot of discussion in the coming months. There are pros and cons, of course, but at this point, it is mostly some really difficult legal mumbo-jumbo to wade through. The excellent folks at NRDC posted an outstanding “first reading” summary that we found extremely helpful but also somewhat troubling. One of the problems NRDC identified is one that is likely to seriously impact us in North Idaho.
As described by NRDC, one of the major flaws in the bill is the “biomass loophole” which gives entirely too much credit and not enough protections when it comes to burning biomaterials for energy. Those materials around here, of course, are our forests. Here are NRDC’s (and our) concerns:
Closing the biofuels loophole. The draft bill creates a large loophole for the carbon emissions from producing and burning biomass, significantly eroding the bill’s carbon pollution reductions. Covered firms are allowed to ignore carbon emissions from burning “renewable biomass” on the assumption that they are completely counterbalanced by carbon uptake when biomass is grown (Sec. 722). In fact, carbon uptake falls short of combustion emissions for many fuel sources defined as renewable biomass, resulting in net carbon pollution. Not requiring allowances for this carbon pollution gives covered sources an economic incentive to switch to biomass, thus seriously degrading the bill’s stated carbon pollution reductions. Closing the biomass loophole is necessary to ensure the integrity of the bill’s emissions targets. The bill’s definition of “renewable biomass” also lacks critical environmental sourcing guidelines to protect forests and other sensitive ecosystems (Sec. 700). The definition provides absolutely no protection for private lands, inviting clearing or converting of sensitive wildlife habitat, old growth forests, and our last remaining native prairies. Partial protections are included for some federal lands, including roadless areas, and wilderness study areas. But many of the nation’s public forests remain exposed. A proper definition would protect areas that are high in biodiversity and that serve as large carbon storehouses, such as mature and old growth forests. It would also provide strong sustainability guidelines to ensure that bioenergy incentives do not drive increased carbon emissions, deforestation, forest degradation, or loss of wildlife habitat.
We’ll be watching as the debate progresses, but plugging this loophole needs to be a priority.