The definition of biomass.
ARKANSAS IS GREEN AND growing. Green with an abundance of privately owned forests, and growing with jobs and tax revenue for our state. As an Arkansan, I'm proud of the nearly 15 million acres of renewable energy in our state's privately owned forests, and the 80,000-plus forest-related jobs they create for Arkansans, as reported by the National Alliance of Forest Owners.
These are working forests. Forests that help maintain air and water quality, conserve soil, ensure a habitat for our abundant wildlife and provide recreational opportunities for individuals and families. The size of Arkansas' privately owned forests and woodlands is impressive: Together they are larger than nine states and roughly the size of West Virginia. And they are a renewable resource, promising perpetual economic and environmental benefits for every Arkansan.
For a resource to be renewable it must be sustained. And the most effective way to sustain the benefits of forestland is to ensure there are markets for forest products. That's where Congress comes in. Of course, there are markets for sawtimber and pulpwood. Where the new opportunities lie, however, are in energy and environmental initiatives currently working their way through the legislative process. Responsible renewable energy policy would further help establish new and emerging markets while promoting eventual market independence for all renewable energy sources. Such policies should provide targeted support for research and development, technology transfer and capital investment.
While U.S. efforts to produce renewable transportation fuels have largely focused on corn ethanol, corn alone cannot meet the growing demand, as it is also a primary food source. Part of the answer is to use cellulosic sources, such as forest materials and wood scraps, to produce second-generation renewable fuels that are more energy-efficient. Wood is the original renewable energy. It has the potential to meet the need for the ever-increasing demand on energy resources, as it provides biomass to generate electricity for forest product mills, as well as other industries and communities throughout the country. What's more, as forests are nurtured and replanted, they help improve the quality of our air, while consuming greenhouse gases.
The federal government estimates renewable biomass may contribute as much as one-third of our nation's renewable energy. But to do that, renewable biomass needs to be part of the mix of any final energy policy passed by Congress. And the definition of biomass should be sufficiently broad in order realize its economically viable potential as a renewable energy source.
The 2008 Farm Bill's definition of biomass works for Arkansas and America. Congress should adopt the same Farm Bill definition of biomass in current energy and climate-change legislation. The result would be the realization of the promise of Arkansas' and America's well-managed forests, as they play a role in meeting our nation's future energy needs. Policies should encourage investments in forests as a source of renewable energy by establishing non-restrictive definitions of forest biomass eligible for renewable energy programs.
The Farm Bill definition of biomass included in the House energy and climate-change bill was championed by our 4th District congressman, Rep. Mike Ross. Now that the bill is in the U.S. Senate, Arkansas' senior senator, Blanche Lincoln, the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is in an excellent position to secure a similar definition of biomass in the Senate bill.
Arkansas is truly green and growing. With our abundance of privately owned forestland, Arkansas can be a leader in promoting biomass as an effective and efficient renewable energy resource. Renewable forest biomass is a net benefit for forest health, the environment, job-creating industries and our local Arkansas economies. With our support, Sen. Lincoln can make a dramatic and positive impact on the development of renewable energy, while promoting job creation through working forests and new forest-product markets. Through her work as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Lincoln will be a key player in sustaining the vibrancy and ecological health of Arkansas woodlands and meeting the objectives of developing responsible renewable energy resources.
Ray Dillon is president and CEO of Deltic Timber Corp. of El Dorado.