The Role of Bioenergy in America's Energy Future

President Obama’s State of the Union remarks this week that tied clean energy with a strong economy struck a resonant chord with renewable energy stakeholders.

While the president acknowledged the need for domestic oil production, and gave a strong nod to the growing development and benefits of U.S. natural gas resources in helping make this country energy self-sufficient, his recognition of the role wind and solar energy development is playing in creating new jobs in this country is a sign that this administration will continue to push sustainable power as a significant part of our nation’s diverse energy portfolio.

The White House has demonstrated a realistic view of U.S. energy needs and understands that there is no single “silver bullet” that can meet an energy demand that is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. The Obama administration has long advocated a wide array of resources and technologies to meet our energy needs, including bioenergy.

The Obama administration’s support for bioenergy is most welcome at a time when few policy makers appreciate or value the tremendous economic, national security and environmental improvements that bioenergy solutions can provide. There is much work to be done by the bioenergy sector to restore the profile of this valuable energy source to a level commensurate with its value to the nation.

A new bioenergy value stream has emerged. However, the new industry is represented by numerous groups and organizations with specific interests that may be unique to the rest of the bioenergy sector. Agriculture, forestry and bioenergy partners and stakeholders are in a position to join and make the sector a formidable player in the U.S. energy debate.

Adding urgency to the need for the sector to reestablish bioenergy’s position as one of several significant solutions to our nation’s energy challenges is the fact that, as policy makers in Washington continue to shape the nation’s energy future, there are several diverse interests that actively oppose the use of bioenergy as a part of that future. Chief among these interests is the oil industry, which aims to protect its share of the energy market by using its allies in Congress to marginalize, or even eliminate, bioenergy opportunities.

Recent discussions among bioenergy stakeholders have elicited the sector’s recognition that biomass and bioenergy solutions are not on the national radar screen, collectively deemed as a “stepchild” to other renewable energy technologies. Given the multiple challenges recently posed to bioenergy, including attacks on the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, uncertainty over EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions “tailoring rule,” and assertions from dubious sources questioning the sustainability of bioenergy, progress in developing the resource has slowed, giving opponents an open field.

The rhetorical challenges come even as “real world” experience shows the viability of biomass as a critical energy resource. Many private companies and universities are continuing to contribute strong efforts to widely develop these domestically grown energy solutions that come from our nation’s farms, ranches, and forests. Government research and funding support is helping maintain a flow of innovative technology advances in the field, despite the conflict in Washington that sometimes threatens the support there for bioenergy.

It is time for bioenergy stakeholders come together and develop a comprehensive strategy for countering this resistance, as well as restore and further strengthen the reputation of bioenergy. The 25x’25 Alliance stands ready to aid the industry’s efforts to secure the support of opinion leaders and policy makers, and make them recognize the economic, environmental and energy security outcomes that this form of renewable energy can provide.

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