2010 Feb. 3: ME: President’s Biomass Proposals Get Mixed Response in Maine

2010 Feb. 3: ME: President’s Biomass Proposals Get Mixed Response in Maine
02/03/2010   Reported By: Keith Shortall

Maine’s John Baldacci was one of a group of governors from 11 states that met with President Obama at the White House today to discuss energy strategy.

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The president announced three measures aimed at boosting production of biofuels and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The details were later presented to reporters via a telephone conference by several Obama cabinet members, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

"I think we are sending a very positive, very specfic, very direct message that the Obama-Biden adminstration is highly supportive of the biofuels industry, sees a tremendous opportunity for growth and expansion of that industry and is committed to making that happen," Vilsack said.

Among the steps announced: a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the so-called Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or B-CAP, that would provide financing to businesses that convert biomass into energy.

"We believe it needs to be designed to reduce the financial risk for farmers, ranchers and forest land owners, who want to invest in, and establish production of, non-food, non-feed biomass — biomass that can displace carbon-dominated materials, commonly used for heat, power, bioproducts and biofuels," Vilsack said.

The adminstration’s biomass promotion efforts, say supporters, will directly benefit states across the nation including Maine.
We have 19 million acres of forestlands, you know, we’re the Saudi Arabia of forestry," says Maine Gov. John Baldacci.

Baldacci says there are businesses in the state that are in search of funding to pursue biomass projects. "We’re working with a company now that is trying to convert an oil boiler into a biomass boiler, and we’re working to try to close the financing gap," he says. "This money will certainly be able to help us in that development, and possibly put 80 to 100 people back to work with the goal of putting close to 200 back to work. And these are jobs that are paying $50,000 or $60,000 dollars a year, and it’ll be in the rural parts of our state."

But critics of the so-called federal B-CAP program say it’s not good policy to simply throw money at biomass producers.

"The Biomass Crop Assistance Program is not a good idea, we believe, because all it is doing is paying landowners for practices that they’re going to engage in anyway, and it’s just making it easier to cut down trees," says Nick Bennet, staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Bennet says the state’s forests are already heavily used by industries, including pulp and paper, wood pellets, lumber and biomass. "And there simply isn’t a lot more wood out there," he says. "The latest data from the Maine Forest Service show that we’re harvesting about as much wood as we’re growing right now, so there is not a limitless potential of wood in Maine’s forests."

Also announced in Washington: a finalized rule from the EPA to implement a long-term renewable fuels standard of 36 billion gallons by 2022, the goal that had been established by Congress.

And the President announced the creation of an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage, charged with developing clean coal technologies.?Gov. Baldacci says the adminstration is open to a wide range of options for reducing dependence on foreign oil, including the further development of domestic nuclear power.

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