Senators Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Jumpstart Biofuel Production in National Forests

Legislation Would Allow National Forest Resources to be Counted Toward Renewable Fuels Standard

(Washington D.C.) – Senators John Thune (R-SD), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) today reintroduced legislation that would fix the flawed definition of renewable biomass in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The definition of “Renewable Biomass” in the 2007 Energy Bill excludes any material removed from national forests and most private forestlands. Therefore, cellulosic ethanol derived from this feedstock does not count toward the expanded Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), resulting in blenders and refiners having no incentive or requirement to purchase biofuels produced from these sources.

This proposed legislation would change the definition of “Renewable Biomass” to more closely conform to earlier versions of the RFS and the 2008 Farm Bill. This legislation would allow pre-commercial and post-commercial waste from national forests to be eligible feedstocks under the definition of “Renewable Biomass” and allows for waste materials to be removed from our public lands which will assist in reducing fire danger.

“To exclude slash piles and other forest waste materials from being counted toward the Renewable Fuels Standard simply makes no sense,” said Thune. “This legislation will allow biomass from national forests, like South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest, to be used in a more sustainable manner that will help improve our economy, our environment, and meet our growing national energy needs. We have an opportunity to spur alternative fuel growth across our country with the development of cellulosic ethanol and I will continue to find workable solutions to make that happen.”

“Renewable resources that can be used to fuel our future shouldn’t be defined by imaginary boundaries,” Tester said. “We need to put all options on the table in order to make our country energy independent, and we need to responsibly use all the renewable resources we have at hand. This is a good, bipartisan bill that just makes common sense.”

“In a time when we should be seeking to source more of our fuel from domestic sources, we must ensure that the availability of feedstocks is expanding in order to meet the renewable fuels standard,” said Sen. Chambliss, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Unfortunately, the current RFS definition severely limits access to biomass from private forest lands. In Georgia alone, only 7.3 million acres would be eligible to contribute biomass for meeting the RFS, compared to 23 million acres that would be available under the definition applied to farm bill programs.”

The definition of “Renewable Biomass” in the 2008 Farm Bill includes waste material from national forests and private forestland. The Farm Bill also includes several incentives for the production of cellulosic ethanol based on this definition of “Renewable Biomass.” These incentives include grants and loan guarantees for cellulosic ethanol plants and provisions of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. 

According to a 2005 U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture study, about 2 billion tons of treatable biomass on federal forestland is available for bioenergy production. A significant portion of this biomass could be sustainably removed on an annual basis, not counting post-commercial waste such as wood chips from paper mills.