The potential for U.S. forests and forest products to mitigate the effects of climate change will play an unprecedented role in a policy agenda announced on Oct. 8 by the White House Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. While there is still large concern about federal government policies affecting forest products more generally, the policy agenda provides a unique opportunity for working forests to be recognized as a solution for climate change.
The recently announced actions, which knit together the carbon benefits of wood construction and biomass energy markets with tax and data collection policies, promise to support the economic viability of working forests and the substantial climate benefits they provide. They would also help address climate-driven events that can negatively affect forests, such as fires and pest infestations. The proposals include:
- “[Strengthen] the collection, coordination and assessment of field inventory data through the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program, the Natural Resources Inventory (NRI), and other surveys of terrestrial condition.”
- “USDA will continue to make investments to advance wood in building, wood energy use, and other wood products – bolstering incentives for retaining and restoring forests – through providing life cycle analysis and technical and financial assistance.”
- “Within six months, USDA will launch the U.S. Tall Wood Building Competition to spur increased sustainability in construction and will give priority to applicants that source materials from rural domestic manufacturers and domestic, sustainably-managed forests.”
- “Tax incentives are a tool that can encourage continued forest landownership and stewardship of these resources.”
In a recent blog post, Dave Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), warned that there is still uncertainty in how the Environmental Protection Agency will treat working forests in forthcoming policies.
“Although the White House’s Agenda is the latest in a series of government positions endorsing the climate benefits of forest biomass, EPA has yet to resolve the uncertainty it created a few years ago on how the Agency will treat biomass in its rules and permits. EPA cannot delay any further. In parallel to the White House Agenda, EPA is moving forward to respond quickly to a recent Supreme Court decision that begs the biomass question to be answered. EPA is also moving quickly on regulations for existing power plants that put the biomass issue front and center. EPA cannot delay a final decision any further, and must act now with certainty given these pending decisions.
Simply put, a biomass misstep on either of these decisions would impede progress on the White House’s Agenda. As long as the EPA biomass question remains unanswered, the efficacy of the rest of the Administration’s forest carbon agenda is in doubt. EPA is the agency that creates the binding rules implementing the Administration’s policy.”
In conjunction with the White House announcement, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) launched a $10 million, five-year campaign to address climate change by working on the ground in strategic landscapes and through the American Tree Farm System to engage landowners in stewardship that will increase carbon capture and improve the resiliency of forests in the face of climate change.
“President Obama’s leadership on this issue is critical for raising awareness of the immense value our forests and the products forests provide to both our economy and our environment,” said AFF President Tom Martin in a release announcing the campaign. “AFF’s commitments, along with the administration’s recommendations, will truly help landowners best utilize their forestland to mitigate the effects climate change.”