Industry Take: How Will 2014 Elections Impact Biomass?

- by Bob Cleaves, November 23, 2014, Biomass Magazine

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"343","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 198px; height: 198px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]On Nov. 4, Americans voted. This election was a decisive victory for Republicans. Senate, House, gubernatorial and even state legislature races across the country saw conservatives prevail. These results were expected, surprising to political types only in the thoroughness of the wins across the board.

What does this mean for biomass? It’s clear that this election signals the need to adjust our interactions with elected officials, but it’s not yet clear what shape that change will take. We will have a better sense of the new Congress’s direction after it is sworn in. The initial signs, however, indicate that there will be a lot we can work with, beginning with an emphasis on the economic benefits of biomass.

We expect that renewable energy, which had been gaining momentum as a key issue among Democratic leadership, will not be as high a priority for this Congress. Rather than focusing on the environmental benefits of biomass, there will likely be a renewed interest in biomass as an energy source that employs tens of thousands of Americans in rural areas.

With a Democratic president and a fully Republican Congress, many anticipate a continuation of the gridlock that has defined Washington the past few years. However, that hasn’t always been the case. President Clinton accomplished a lot, including balancing the federal budget, while working with a two-chamber Republican Congress beginning in 1994. To that end, one issue that may be possible for President Obama and Congress to work together on is tax reform—a prime opportunity to advocate for the much-needed energy tax overhaul that could help our industry. Unaffected by this week’s elections is the fate of the tax extenders. With just a few days left in this year’s legislative calendar, the lame-duck Congress will likely take up proposals in both chambers to extend Section 45 tax credits, including credits for biomass.

Many strong biomass supporters kept their seats for the 114th Congress. Rep. Ann Kuster, a Democrat from New Hampshire and a prominent supporter of biomass, was reelected. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, also a Democrat from New Hampshire, managed a victory in a close race with former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a long-time supporter of the forest products industry, also sailed to victory. Many more biomass supporters whose races were not contested will be coming back to Congress as well.

Right now, the most we can do is speculate as to how things will go over the next couple of years. We do know that there will be changes, but luckily for biomass, we have a lot of appeal for officials of any political stripe. As an industry, we will continue to work with our existing proponents, and ensure that newly elected officials are aware of biomass and the need to support the many men and women who work hard to create energy from wood residues.