As of now, legislation in the U.S. House on energy and greenhouse gas emissions does not include using wood from mature federal forests as renewable biomass for clean power.
And that's not sitting well with Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who both have introduced legislation to allow the production of cellulosic ethanol out of woody biomass, such as downed trees, trimmings and brush from federal lands.
The bills are aimed at changing language in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which set up the nation's Renewable Fuels Standard and prevents cellulosic ethanol from being made out of almost all federal forest waste, including slash piles in the 6,000-square-mile Black Hills National Forest.
Last week, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee endorsed a bill that seeks to create a "cap-and-trade" system where polluters would have to buy credits equal to their emissions and thus ease global warming.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., advanced the biomass proposal last Tuesday, and Herseth-Sandlin said its defeat was a procedural issue. A broader definition of woody biomass is gaining bipartisan support in the House, she said.
"It's not the last word at all. What comes out of the Energy and Commerce Committee will be incomplete. There's a reason the bill is going to get referred to eight different committees _ it's that complex," Herseth Sandlin said.
She and Thune say a much broader definition of woody biomass is critical if the country is to meet the federally mandated standard, which calls for blending 36 billion gallons of renewables into the nation's gasoline supply by 2022. Of the total, 22 billion gallons must be made from sources other than corn kernels.
"The definition is just too narrow," Thune said. "Especially in the Black Hills. It's virtually impossible for them to participate in the biofuels industry."
Biomass is crucial to meeting the renewable fuel goals, Herseth Sandlin said. "We've got science on our side."
The RFS definition, "severely constrains the ability of nonfederal forest lands to supply feedstock to our nation's renewable fuels goals. ... A broadened definition in the RFS will help establish renewable fuels markets that, in turn, can create family-wage jobs in forest-based communities and reduce the risk of wildfire that threaten as many as 64,000 communities in the U.S. each year," Leah MacSwords, president of the National Association of State Foresters, said in a letter to Herseth Sandlin and Thune.
The Black Hills National Forest grows by about 119 million board feet of saw timber per year, according to Blaine Cook, who works for the forest. He says officials estimate there are about 3,000 slash piles in the forest.
"And we're burning it, which is ridiculous," Herseth Sandlin said. "Or just leaving it to rot in the forest."