BALDWIN — When the U.S. Senate passed an energy bill last month, most commentators praised it as an example of compromise between the major parties.

But a handful of critics have blasted the bill because of a bipartisan biomass amendment sponsored by Maine’s Susan Collins, a Republican, and co-sponsored by Maine independent Angus King and several of their colleagues. They want it deleted in the upcoming House-Senate conference committee. These critics don’t seem to understand the basics of today’s forest-based economy.

As a third-generation certified tree farmer, I’ve seen how Maine’s timber industry has changed since Pop and my grandmother started our tree farm in 1959. Back in the day, Maine had a thriving industry made up of large timber companies and small, family landowners.

Maine’s forestland was producing the timber America needed for paper and homes. More important, it also provided income for our state’s residents. This income was vital for private landowners to be able to keep managing the land, not just for timber, but also for the clean water and wildlife habitat we all count on. The industry was essential to forest conservation.

Things have certainly changed almost 60 years later. Because of a whole host of issues, Maine’s forest products industry is in decline. This, in turn, is putting pressure on landowners’ ability to manage the land.

Today, we need to leverage all the potential market opportunities for Maine wood if we are going to preserve our industry and maintain our forestland.

This is where biomass and Sens. Collins’ and King’s amendment comes in.

Maine, of course, is no stranger to biomass. Biomass produces 27 percent of our electricity and employs 1,300 people in the state. Just last month, the state appropriated $13.4 million to help keep at least two of the state’s six remaining grid-scale biomass facilities open.

While most of the biomass grown in Maine is currently used here, there are other uses of biomass that show promise. One example is the manufactured wood pellet. Users burn the pellets to generate renewable energy. The pellets have proven to be popular elsewhere in the United States and to a much greater degree in Europe.

This brings us to the amendment. The amendment requires the Environmental Protection Agency to recognize biomass as a renewable resource, thus encouraging additonal use of it.

The amendment would also send an important signal to Massachusetts and other states that have adopted policies that restrict the use of biomass. Hopefully, it will lead these states to reverse their policies. This will allow Maine’s biomass plants to start selling electricity in other states.

Herein lies the controversy.

On the one hand, there are the biomass critics, such as the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards. They argue that burning biomass – and thus releasing carbon – will have a negative impact in the short-term fight against climate change.

On the other, you have forest scientists who see something different. They look at active forest management practices and understand the larger picture.

These scientists understand that trees need to be harvested. This ensures the overall health of the forests, and their carbon-capturing benefits, today and in the future. It also guarantees that landowners have the income to keep their land in forests.

When observed over a period of decades, this has a net positive carbon impact. This doesn’t even take into account the other benefits to our air and water.

As a tree farmer, I can’t make a ruling on who is right on the science. But I do know that family landowners like myself remain focused on doing what is best for the land.

Thanks to innovation and better forestry practices, Maine’s timber industry has helped contribute to an increase in forest cover in the United States since the 1950s, even during all-time highs for the industry. And we aren’t stopping there.

We are committed to doing everything possible to protect the environment and provide jobs for Maine residents. I want to ensure that my 2,000 acres stay both productive and in the family for generations to come.

But to keep Maine’s timber industry healthy, our government must adopt policies that keep biomass viable. The biomass amendment deserves to stay in the energy bill.

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