My View: Retain renewable fuels standard
I am a small woodland owner in Forest Grove and the former President of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association (OSWA). OSWA has hundreds of members throughout the state who own between 1 and 5,000 acres of land with trees growing on their property.
Our members are strong stewards of their land and they are dedicated to its sustainability. Woodlands are their livelihood and, in many cases, their homes, as many members live directly on the land they manage. The horrific fire season we saw in 2017 speaks to the need for smart management of woodlands whether they are small, large, private, state or federal. Better management to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires is a must. If there is a way to do that, it also opens up new renewable energy opportunities for woodland owners. I call that a win-win.
Oregon produces millions of tons of woody "waste" products every year, from logging debris to sawdust to small trees from U.S. Forest Service thinning projects. All of it contains stored solar energy. The cost of harnessing that energy can be competitive with fossil fuels. Entrepreneurs, scientists and advocates are at work finding the most beneficial and cost-effective ways to use biomass to heat schools and hospitals, generate electricity and fuel cars, trucks and airplanes.
The emergence of transportation forest biofuels would be a huge boon for our woodlands industry, our local economies and our environment. However, as is often the case with the development of new technologies, we need a supportive public policy environment to encourage this growth.
A decade-old federal policy, the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), has been a key driver for the development and adoption of biofuels in this country. Unfortunately, this program is in jeopardy. The section that mandates the use of alternative biofuels in our fuel transportation supply has come under attack, particularly from big oil. If we are going to seize the opportunity to turn woody waste into renewable energy, the RFS must remain intact.
Since the inception of the Renewable Fuels Standard, ethanol and other biofuels have resulted in the creation or support of more than 850,000 U.S. jobs. Why shouldn't Oregon have a larger share of those jobs, particularly in areas that have been hard hit by the decline in natural resource sectors? Good jobs that promote renewable fuel is another win-win. Not to mention that using woody waste to fuel vehicles will help deprive fires of the fuel they need to become the monsters that we have seen in Oregon in recent years.
The federal Renewable Fuel Standard is a successful program that has encouraged the development of alternative fuels and technologies. It has also spurred massive economic growth in certain parts of the country while increasing the adoption of renewable fuels. This program should continue so technologies that encourage sustainability and utilize the byproduct of our forests are further developed.
All of Oregon, not just small woodland owners, will win if that is allowed to happen.
Scott Hayes is a Forest Grove resident and owner of Arbor House Tree Farm, part of the Oregon Woodland Cooperative in Banks.