By Clare Foran
The House voted on Wednesday to approve a sweeping and historic conservation and public lands bill that President Donald Trump has pledged to sign into law.
The measure — the Great American Outdoors Act — has already been passed by the Senate and will now go to the President’s desk for his signature.
The legislation would fully and permanently fund a conservation program known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was set up by Congress in the 1960s and has been chronically underfunded. The measure will require mandatory funding of the program at a level of $900 million annually. Funding for the program does not use taxpayer dollars. Instead it comes from revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments.
The legislation would also dedicate funding for backlogged maintenance projects on federal lands run by the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other agencies.
Congressional approval of the legislation represents a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Capitol Hill and comes at a time of national crisis as the country grapples with the devastating toll of the coronavirus pandemic and gears up for contentious negotiations over further relief to address the economic and public health fallout from the spread of the disease.
Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have fought for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF for years, making the passage of the bill a major victory for Democrats.
“The stars aligned correctly this time,” Grijalva said in an interview with CNN ahead of the vote on Wednesday. “This is a popular program, people want it, and I think regardless of party people are responding.”
By Tony Hall
New York foresters hoped their industry could help the state offset its carbon imprint, but an ambitious climate law does not prescribe biomass energy.
If New York State is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 85 percent by 2050, as required by this year’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, it will need its forests.
But it’s not for wood biofuel, lawmakers decided. By design, the legislation omits wood-fired biomass from the list of officially recognized, renewable energy systems.
Rather, New York is counting on its forests to inhale heat-trapping carbon dioxide; to sequester the carbon that cannot be captured by new technology or significantly reduced by clean energy.
“Some emissions, such as those associated with air travel and from some industrial sources, will be difficult to eliminate,” said Jared Snyder, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Deputy Commissioner for Air Resources, Climate Change and Energy. “That’s why it’s essential that we identify and take advantage of the opportunities for sequestering carbon in a natural way, in our forests.”
Of course, some representatives of the forest products industry, many of whom attended a conference on the new law and its ramifications in Queensbury at SUNY Adirondack on Oct. 15, appear to have hoped for a more dynamic, lucrative role in New York’s Green New Deal.
“It’s hard not to conclude that this legislation takes a very dim view of the role of sustainably sourced wood as an energy source,” said Charlie Niebling, whose company manufactures wood pellets
There has been considerable debate about the potential for biofuels including wood pellets to help offset the climate impacts from fossil fuels, especially after the European Union embraced wood power as renewable energy. Although burning wood emits carbon dioxide, the industry argument goes, the trees that then grow in its place on responsibly managed forests recapture carbon over time. Canada exports most of its wood pellets to Europe, where they are more cost-competitive because power production is more expensive. Southeastern U.S. forestry companies are also supplying Europe, claiming environmental benefits for using waste wood. But some climate activists, including Vermont-based author Bill McKibben, argue that it doesn’t make sense to count on future trees to offset current emissions when the climate is in crisis now.
“Is there any opportunity for sustainably sourced wood from good forestry operations to play a role in meeting the energy needs of the state going forward?” Niebling asked.
According to DEC officials, the state’s new Climate Action Council and its stakeholder advisory panels will provide opportunities for groups such as the Empire State Forest Products Association to make recommendations that could increase the use of wood products in construction and transportation, among other areas.
The Climate Action Council will also play a role in the preservation and management of the state’s 15 million acres of private forest lands.
By Sarah Plummer
School officials in some of West Virginia’s most rural counties are slated to see major losses in financial support they receive from the U.S. Forest Service.
The Secure Rural Schools Act provides financial support for 775 counties across the nation located near national forests. These counties once relied on a portion of timber revenue, but increased logging regulations on federal land in the 1990s caused these revenues to dip drastically. The act was developed to shore up these forested counties.
Babete Anderson, national press officer for the Forest Service, said, without congressional reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act, payments to these rural schools must revert to 1908 guidelines regarding timber revenues.
Many of our national forests are in dire condition and Congress must take urgent action to address this worsening crisis.
Catastrophic wildfires have once again wreaked havoc this year, leaving nearly 5 million acres burned, destroying hundreds of homes, unleashing untold amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and, most tragically, claiming several lives. These unacceptable outcomes are hardly new; they have been harsh realities for many years running. And with tens of millions of dead and damaged trees across many national forests, the problem will only grow worse.
As Forest Service professionals who dedicated our professional lives to protecting these forests, we have closely examined the science related to the causes and facilitators of catastrophic wildfire. The science overwhelmingly shows that excessive fuel loads, overly crowded tree stands, and trees weakened by drought, insects and diseases all contribute to the severity of wildfires. In our judgment, more active management to address these factors, including more responsible and timely harvesting, is unquestionably needed.