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Can Bioenergy Production Be Sustainable?

April 1, 2010


The National Wildlife Federation has released a new policy paper, Growing a Green Energy Future: A Primer and Vision for Sustainable Biomass Energy, that concludes that the U.S. can do much more to improve the conservation and environmental performance of bioenergy production.  The paper lays out the changes needed in U.S. policy for bioenergy production to ensure that this energy is produced in a sustainable fashion and in ways that significantly reduce the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Authors Loni Kemp and Julie Sibbing provide an overview of the major sources of bioenergy, including grasses, forest biomass, annual crops and residues, garbage, manure and sewage, industrial waste, and “micro-crops” such as algae.   They then focus on specific examples of biomass production in agricultural and forest systems.   These examples demonstrate that there are systems that can provide a win-win situation, with bioenergy feedstock production that improves our nation’s ecological system.  One example is restoring mixed perennial grasses in prairie systems on marginal land that had been converted to row crop production.  The trade-off is positive, with low yielding crop production on eroding land being replaced by high quality biomass production that keeps soil on the land and provides wildlife habitat.

But significant policy changes will be needed for U.S. bioenergy production to be sustainable.   The authors point out the downsides of current U.S. biofuel policy that heavily subsidizes and promotes the production of ethanol from corn kernels, at a high cost to the environment.   They call for clear standards to ensure sustainability and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from our bioenergy production systems.   And they emphasize the need for increased energy conservation and efficiency, renewable electricity, and increased access to mass transit as requirements to meet our nation’s transportation needs.

The paper notes that an important new Farm Bill program – the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) – could help make the next generation of bioenergy more sustainable.   This program could provide significant resources to establish new perennial bioenergy crops and trees in sustainable agriculture and forest systems.  But USDA’s proposed rule for the program is seriously flawed.

You can add your voice to that of NSAC and others who are urging USDA to improve the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.  Click here for more information on how to submit comments.   Comments are due by Friday, April 9, 2010.


Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment


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