The Role of Biomass in Achieving Clean Power Plan Goals – A 2016 Workshop to Foster a Constructive Discussion

By Janet McCabe

Since issuing the Clean Power Plan (CPP), states and stakeholders have shown a strong interest in the role biomass can play in state plans to reduce carbon emissions under the rule. Many states are seeking to better understand how maintaining and building on their existing approaches to sound carbon- and greenhouse gas (GHG)-beneficial forestry and land management practices can yield biomass resources that will help them meet their CPP goals, and how to craft plans that will be federally approvable under the final CPP guidelines. To respond to this interest and to support state and stakeholder efforts to incorporate bioenergy in their CPP plans, we will be holding a public workshop in early 2016 for stakeholders to share their successes, experiences and approaches to deploying biomass in ways that have been, and can be, carbon beneficial.

The president’s Climate Action Plan and a range of the administration’s policies recognize that America’s forests and other lands must continue to play an essential role in mitigating the effects of carbon pollution. Biomass derived from land that is managed under programs that ensure the long-term maintenance of healthy forests can serve as an integral part of a broader forestry-based climate strategy, so the CPP expressly includes bioenergy as an option for states and utilities in CPP compliance.  It reflects the fact that, in many cases, biomass and bioenergy products in the power system can be an integral part of state programs and foster responsible land management and renewable energy.

State flexibility is a key component of the CPP. It recognizes the unique circumstances of each state’s energy mix and approaches to energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Many states already have extensive expertise in sound carbon- and GHG-beneficial forestry and land management practices, and the CPP’s flexibility will give states the ability to build in approaches to biomass and bioenergy unique to their forests and land management programs and policies.  It recognizes the importance of forests and other lands for climate resilience – in addition to the carbon benefits of biomass – fostered by a variety of land use policies, renewable energy incentives and standards, and GHG strategies. Working with stakeholders, these states promote viable forestry and agricultural product markets, which help protect and preserve healthy and productive lands and contribute to the continued and improved management of these lands.

That is why the CPP creates a pathway for states to use biomass as part of their plans to meet their emission reduction guidelines, and we expect many states to include biomass as a component in their state plans. We look forward to reviewing plans that incorporate well-developed forestry and other land management programs producing biomass that can qualify under the guidelines laid out in the CPP, and we are confident that the CPP offers sufficient lead time and flexibility for states to develop approvable programs.

So a key goal of the workshop we’ll be holding is to provide an opportunity for states with well-developed forestry and land management practices to share their experiences.  Another is to foster a constructive dialogue about how states can best include biomass in their compliance plans if that is a path they choose to follow.  The workshop will showcase the constructive compliance approaches many states are already implementing or developing.  And to prepare for the workshop, our first step is to reach out to key stakeholders to get ideas on the agenda.

We look forward to working with states and stakeholders to ensure that biomass continues to play an important role in accomplishing our climate change goals. Open lines of communication and sharing information helped shape the final Clean Power Plan, and continued constructive engagement will be vital for us to achieve significant climate and health benefits as we implement the CPP.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Science Wednesday: Mapping Forest “Fuels”

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Todd Erdody is a MS student at the University of Washington College of Forest Resources. His work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

image of man in haard hat feeding a large fireBefore starting my graduate education in the fall of 2007, I was working as a fire monitor and firefighter in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California. I was headed for a graduate program in remote sensing and forestry with a college-funded fellowship and no set thesis topic. I spent a good part of that summer thinking about potential research topics as I ignited prescribed fires and fought, monitored, and mapped wildfires.

I realized that I wanted to build on existing research at the University of Washington to find better ways to estimate canopy “fuels”— small-diameter branches and foliage (leaves) that will burn in a wildfire.

Existing fuels maps are made from coarse-resolution vegetation maps and satellite imagery. By using high-resolution, remote sensing data such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and digital imagery, perhaps canopy fuels could be mapped more accurately and efficiently. Through improved fuels mapping, smoke and harmful particulate matter production from wildfires could be more accurately assessed.image of man on mountain viewing smoke from a distant fire

Since I was only funded for my first year of graduate school, I was looking for assistance. I was very grateful to receive the EPA STAR fellowship for the 2008/2009 academic year. Aside from helping me in my second year of graduate education and enabling me to focus on my work, it gives me the resources needed to attend a variety of conferences to present my research.

I wanted to focus my research on a fire-prone ecosystem, so I chose to work in the forests dominated by Ponderosa pines in eastern Washington State. I am currently building regression models for canopy fuel metrics and will eventually produce maps of canopy fuel loading. My goal is to be able to use these models in similar forest types throughout the Northwest.

Others have done similar work in the forests of western Washington and, although I am using existing methods, the real difference is that I am creating models in ecosystems that will frequently burn. The applications for this research are far-reaching in terms of both geography and planning. I envision forest managers using high-resolution remote sensing technologies to map fuels more effectively and create maps for use in wildfire and smoke modeling programs.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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