AUGUSTA — Maine’s loggers, landowners, foresters and mills not only want, but need to use every part of a tree.

Our state is a national leader in renewable energy, and biomass accounts for 60 percent of Maine’s renewable energy portfolio and 27 percent of its electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Without healthy biomass markets, low-grade wood and sawmill residue will clog Maine’s forests or landfills and, as a recent Telegram story reported, the state could lose hundreds of logging and trucking jobs.

“Those products make up a large percentage of our overall operations. We need to generate enough volume on a weekly, monthly, annual basis to cut down our overhead and keep everybody employed,” says logger Steve Hanington.

Fortunately, Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King understand how important biomass energy is to Maine. Despite recent criticism in the Portland Press Herald by Mary Booth and Michael Kellett, Maine’s senators have shown real leadership on energy and the environment.

Collins authored and King co-sponsored Amendment 3140, which was unanimously adopted as part of the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act. Their amendment requires “certain federal agencies to establish consistent policies relating to forest biomass energy to help address the energy needs of the United States.”

You don’t win a unanimous vote, especially in today’s divided Senate, unless you’ve got a very solid idea. Consistency and clarity in biomass policies are needed.

Numerous studies have found that sustainable, low-carbon biomass can provide a significant part of the renewable energy needed to reduce emissions and transition to cleaner energy. A 2014 Journal of Forestry article, “Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in U.S. Bioenergy Policy,” summed up the four research-based insights “essential to understanding forest bioenergy and ‘carbon debts.’ ”

“As long as wood-producing land remains in forest, long-lived wood products and forest bioenergy reduce fossil fuel use and long-term carbon emission impacts.”

 “Increased demand for wood can trigger investments that increase forest area and forest productivity and reduce carbon impacts associated with increased harvesting.”

 “The carbon debt concept emphasizes short-term concerns about biogenic CO2 emissions, although it is long-term cumulative CO2 emissions that are correlated with projected peak global temperature, and these cumulative emissions are reduced by substituting forest bioenergy for fossil fuels.”

 “Considering forest growth, investment responses, and the radiative forcing of biogenic CO2 over a 100-year time horizon (as used for other greenhouse gases), the increased use of forest-derived materials most likely to be used for bioenergy in the United States results in low net greenhouse gas emissions, especially compared with those for fossil fuels.”

To put it simply, there’s nothing wrong with using our state’s renewable, sustainable, plentiful resource to produce energy. Loggers, landowners, mills, forests, the environment, and state and local economies all benefit from biomass, which otherwise would go to waste.

That would be a shame, because Maine has so much biomass to recycle annually, including slab chips (279,000 tons) and sawdust and bark (859,910 tons) from sawmills.

Robbins Lumber in Searsmont, for example, produces three trailer loads of wood chips each day.

“We make big square boards out of round logs, so the sides of those logs all go into chips,” said Jim Robbins Sr. “What do we do with 93 tons of chips a day? We can’t eat them, so we have to find another market for them.”

That’s why worried loggers, landowners and mill representatives packed a legislative hearing Feb. 23 to ask for help. Discussions are ongoing about how to preserve and strengthen markets for biomass.

The West Enfield and Jonesboro biomass plants are closing in March and four others, in Livermore Falls, Stratton, Ashland and Fort Fairfield, also are at risk. That’s partly because of mill closures and downsizing and partly because of the low cost of natural gas and oil. Another disruptive factor is unstable standards and markets in New England states for renewable energy credits.

Fortunately, Sen. Collins and Sen. King understand this issue very well. They know that with biomass energy and healthy biomass markets, everybody wins. They deserve praise for their commitment to clean, efficient, sustainable, affordable, homegrown energy.