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Bipartisan Team Says Action Needed Now For Healthier Forests And Job Creation In Rural America

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Location: Washington, D.C.

<br>Bipartisan Team Says Action Needed Now For Healthier Forests And Job Creation In Rural America

A bipartisan team of House members announced this morning their plan to address forest health issues and put rural America back to work. Without waiving any environmental laws, the plan would allow federal scientists and foresters to manage fire-prone forests back to health and encourage the growth of an important new renewable energy industry.

The bipartisan group includes Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Brian Baird (D-Wash.), and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.).

“Catastrophic wildfire and bug infestation are leaving a different forest landscape for our grandchildren than what we grew up with,” Walden said. “Working in a bipartisan way, we will update federal forest policies to allow federal scientists and foresters to do the work required to bring our forests back to health. We will maintain on-the-ground environmental standards and build on the success of established bipartisan law to reduce the needless red tape that blocks proper stewardship of our national forests. Doing this will create much-needed jobs and healthier forests.”

“Representative Walden and I created the Healthy Forest Caucus because we believe our forests can be managed in an environmentally-friendly way while producing much needed jobs in communities throughout rural America,” Schrader said. “This legislation builds on the progress our region has already made in converting biomass into renewable energy. Healthy forest policies will reduce wildfires while also decreasing our carbon footprint and bringing thousands of well-paying jobs to the Pacific Northwest.”

“I am proud to work on these bipartisan, common-sense proposals that will breathe new life into the timber industry that has been hurting for many years and incentivize new renewable energy operations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Baird said. “Every year we see the overwhelming majority of the forest service budget literally go up in smoke. By embracing a new approach to forest management we can reduce the risks of future forest fires with responsible policies while creating jobs and stimulating the local economy at the same time.”

“The goal of this new bipartisan initiative is to enhance our ability to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and strengthen the development of woody biomass as a source of renewable energy, which will increase our energy independence and foster economic development in rural communities,” Herseth Sandlin said. “This effort builds on my work to incentivize the use of woody biomass to produce renewable fuels through the federal Renewable Fuels Standard. Together with Congressman Walden, I've already introduced legislation to correct the flawed definition of renewable biomass in the 2007 Energy Bill. I'm hopeful that in continuing to work with a bipartisan group of my colleagues on this issue, we will be able to fully capitalize on the potential of renewable biomass in meeting our country's energy needs while also ensuring the health of our forests for generations to come.”

The bipartisan legislative effort will seek to:

-Vastly improve forest health by reducing fuel loads, bug infestation and disease
-Enhance the self-reliance of rural communities and create new jobs in rural forested America
-Promote energy independence by expanding renewable woody biomass energy production
-Comply with all existing environmental laws and retain current old growth protections

The bipartisan plan to rein in wildfire, foster economic development and put rural America back to work.

Allow work in the forests before wildfires burn – Without waiving any existing environmental laws, the bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA, PL 108-148) streamlined burdensome federal regulations to cut through red tape and frivolous lawsuits to allow management of overgrown federal forests. Where implemented in the areas immediately surrounding rural forested communities, it has succeeded in helping curb catastrophic wildfire and improve forest health.

However, since the landmark legislation was signed into law, over 40 million acres have burned in the United States, an area larger than North Dakota. A recent study from the Western Institute for Study of the Environment found that, to offset to greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires in California from 2001 to 2007, you'd have to lock up all 14 million of the state's cars for 3.5 years.

Federal scientists and foresters have asked to be able to use the bipartisan HFRA tools in the areas away from communities where forest health is assessed as poor and catastrophic fires begin. Again, without waiving any environmental laws, this legislation would give federal scientists and foresters the tools to manage our forests to reduce catastrophic fire from choked, diseased, and beetle-infested forests.

Attract renewable energy investments and jobs to rural America – The renewable biomass energy industry that holds such great potential for jobs in rural America would transform waste from forest health projects described above into clean renewable energy. But a glitch in federal law puts this exciting new industry at a disadvantage when competing for critical private investments and holding its rightful place in America's smarter energy future.

This legislation would give renewable biomass energy the same incentives available to other renewable energy technologies, and put rural America on an equal playing field with the rest of the country when it comes to attracting the clean energy jobs that will play such an important role in America's smarter energy future.

Jumpstart the clean biomass energy market – This part of the legislation would help the renewable biomass energy industry plant firm roots by encouraging public schools and hospitals to install or convert to clean biomass energy, heating or cooling systems. It would also encourage U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management office facilities to be heated, cooled, or electrified from the clean energy produced using the waste from the healthy forest projects promoted in the bill. Doing so will produce more jobs and improve forest health too.


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