Bioenergy in the Draft American Power Act

Bioenergy in the Draft American Power Act

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Bioenergy has long been presented as the sustainable alternative to crude oil and natural gas. Though science suggests that bioenergy is unsustainable and has the potential to cause severe ecological damage, Congress has promoted bioenergy as the best alternative to our current dependence on foreign oil. The draft American Power Act (APA) is no different. It encourages unsustainable bioenergy production while also weakening current law that prevents deforestation. The draft American Power Act, if enacted, would result in global warming pollution and biodiversity loss.

The draft American Power Act excludes emissions from the production of renewable biomass in the carbon cap. Known as the biomass loophole, it creates a market incentive for increased biomass production despite its high emissions portfolio. Bioenergy use will not require the purchase of pollutions permits, leaving wind and solar energies at a competitive disadvantage. Studies have shown that excluding biomass emissions from a carbon cap could cause widespread deforestation as energy providers search for the cheapest form of energy.        

The definition of renewable biomass in the draft American Power Act seeks to weaken the current safeguards provided by the renewable biomass definition in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). The renewable biomass definition in the APA protects some public lands by excluding biomass obtained from ecologically important areas, but there are absolutely no protections for tribal lands or land that is privately owned. This bill could be merged with the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462), eliminating the stronger renewable biomass definition from the RFS. 

The American Power Act also calls for a few studies to be conducted on the environmental effects of bioenergy. The first directs the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study impacts that the biomass definition could have on natural ecosystems and energy security. It also calls for two studies to be conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Interior (DOI), and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the impacts of bioenergy production. The first would investigate the climate-warming emissions from bioenergy.   The other study would investigate the impact that bioenergy could be have on food production. The results of any of these studies would not necessarily result in policy changes.

The draft American Power Act will create policy that contains incentives for bioenergy that compete with food production, wildlife habitat, and natural carbon sequestration. Congress should work towards legislation that encourages of a full evaluation of the environmental effects of bioenergy.     

Factsheet on Bioenergy in American Power Act