Chairing Small Business Hearing, Golden Showcases Maine’s Growing Sustainable Forest Economy
WASHINGTON — In a hearing of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Underserved, Agricultural, and Rural Business Development chaired by Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) today, the congressman focused in on ways that a booming forest products economy can address climate change, and on challenges with government programs meant to support sustainable forestry.
“It’s clear the great benefits the forest products industry and sustainable forestry can have for our country,” said Congressman Golden during the hearing. “Protecting our environment doesn’t have to be bad for business. I think our witnesses proved today that that is certainly not the case in places like Maine and Minnesota and a lot of others. Sustainable forestry provides positive economic and social outcomes and meets the needs of present and, we hope, future generations as well. So I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance policies to keep our forests healthy and help small business owners in the forest products industry.”
During the hearing, the panel of Maine leaders in logging, forestry research, and biomass energy offered testimony on the potential of the growing sustainable forest products economy, how it can help promote clean air and water and tackle climate change, and how Congress should support jobs and small businesses in the sector.
“Many on this committee might find it odd for a trade association that represents loggers and truckers in the state—typically a conservative group—to stand before you today to discuss how timber harvesting can be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Professional Logging Contractors of Maine Executive Director Dana Doran. “With that in mind, I can say with great honesty that this perception is not reality when it comes to Maine’s logging and trucking community. Over the last 20 years, we have learned to recognize and prepare for our role in climate mitigation through our work on the ground.”
ReEnergy Regional Manager Mark Thibodeau, who manages ReEnergy’s biomass power plant in Stratton, Maine, also told the committee about how biomass energy generation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The net emissions from biomass are considered negligible, ‘neutral,’ or even ‘negative,’ depending upon the type of biomass,” said Thibodeau. “If not used as fuel, biomass could have several different fates – decaying in the forest, open burning, landfilling, composting or other means of disposal. Each of these alternatives has a greater greenhouse effect than does biomass power generation because they produce and release significant quantities of methane, which is 25 times more potent as a GHG than carbon dioxide. The controlled combustion of biomass for electrical power generation converts essentially all of the carbon into less potent carbon dioxide.”
And UMaine Associate Professor of Forest Policy and Economics Adam Daigneault shared data on how trees and therefore finished wood products act as carbon sinks.
“Timber harvesting is necessary to meet societal needs and mitigate climate change,” said UMaine Associate Professor of Forest Policy and Economics Adam Daigneault. “Nearly 20% of U.S. forest carbon sequestration is attributed to harvested wood products. In areas like Maine, timber products from managed forests contribute to about 30% of the annual carbon sequestration. Wood is also a renewable resource that can be substituted for more emissions-intensive materials such as steel and concrete.”
Congressman Golden asked Dana Doran about carbon markets, which can provide revenue to forest owners for the carbon sequestered in their trees. “I’ve seen that some of these programs are probably structured in a way that would be of concern to loggers and the Forest Products Council. But is there also something good here potentially if it means that more people are going to engage in forest growth?” Congressman Golden asked. “Does it give landowners another tool in the toolbox? What’s your feedback on this?”
“Carbon markets generally are a reduction of the annual timber harvest, or the annual cut. But we feel like it can be structured in a way that we make sure that we actually weed the forest, remove the low-value wood, and we can still conduct the same type of forest management without an impact to the contractor,” Doran said. “If we can develop a system like that, that increases forest management, produces higher-level products, and greater markets, I think everybody shares in the prosperity. But that’s a big nut that we have to crack.”
Congressman Golden also asked the witnesses about the level of demand for the $200 million USDA COVID-19 logger relief fund, which he and Senator Collins had proposed in July 2020 and then secured passage of in December 2020. American Loggers Council Executive Director Scott Dane answered that studies and surveys have estimated the full need at $1 billion to $1.8 billion.