Working Forests Want to Contribute to a Low-Carbon Future

The United States Supreme Court recently stayed implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which seeks to limit carbon pollution from power plants. While the development might generate bigger headlines, a story worth watching is the opportunity for biomass, lots of it originating in America’s forests, to contribute to carbon reduction.

Forests are giant carbon sinks. Trees absorb massive quantities of carbon dioxide and hold it in their root systems, limbs and trunks. Recent EPA estimates suggest that 13 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in this country is eventually captured and fixed in America’s forests. This service is performed continuously, for free. The CPP has the potential to recognize this environmental benefit by providing marketplace opportunities in energy generation.

Forest owners and groups like the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the Biomass Power Association are engaged in discussions surrounding not only the CPP but also the work being performed by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board as it works to determine the best way to think about the carbon-fixing properties of forest biomass. Forest inventories are increasing, which means the carbon locked away in their trees is, too. Why not use materials obtained from forest floors to provide a carbon-neutral feedstock to reduce the overall carbon intensity of electric power where appropriate?

Recognizing the carbon-reducing benefits of a sustainably-managed forest is not only the right thing to do, it’s based in science. The recent roadblock for CPP notwithstanding, it’s a good bet that the migration toward a low-carbon energy future will continue. America’s working forests stand ready to play a role.