New Report: Incentivizing Commercialization of Biofuels Can Be a Game Changer in Reducing Wildfire Risk, Improving Forest Management and Health

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Report also explores the power of embracing new jurisdictional and regulatory models to prevent and reduce wildfires near urban areas

There’s gold in them thar forests! That’s among the key findings of a new report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute that explores the opportunities and obstacles for converting excess trees and vegetation into biofuels and other useful by-products while also reducing wildfire risks from overgrown forests.

The report also examined how better coordination and collaboration among local, state and federal agencies can lead to better forest management and wildfire response. While the study looked in particular at innovative approaches being developed in the East Bay to better manage wildfire risk through interjurisdictional agreements, the models have applications statewide.

An especially promising area for improving the health of forests, reducing the growing damage and costs from increasingly catastrophic wildfires and meeting the state’s ambitious climate change goals involves empowering the private sector to create and grow the commercial marketplace for biofuels and other woody products, including building materials.

Read Harnessing the Private Sector: Opportunities and Challenges for Incentivizing Market-Based Uses of Woody Biomass in the East Bay Hills>>

Not only could incentivizing private investment in biomass commercialization provide funding for better managing forests, the report found it could also reduce the many tens of billions of dollars government spends annually putting out and cleaning up after fires that have only grown bigger and more intense with a warming planet. And increasing us of biofuels, such as sustainable aviation fuels, would go a long way towards decarbonizing a transportation sector that accounts for up to 40% of global carbon emissions.

“With wildfires getting bigger, more intense and more destructive, California needs bold new approaches for addressing this existential threat to our way of life,” said Bay Area Council Economic Institute Vice President of Research Patrick Kallerman, who authored the analysis with Economic Institute Senior Research Director Abby Raisz. “This report offers a powerful roadmap for better managing our forests and wildland spaces by leveraging the power of market-based technologies and solutions, and responsibly reforming outdated regulatory and jurisdictional models.”

For example, current laws and regulations largely prohibit commercial extraction of woody biomass from many public lands controlled by local and regional authorities. Allowing the removal of this material for commercial purposes would not only help energize the sustainable fuels industry at little or no cost to taxpayers it would help reduce fire risk in urban and surburban areas known as the wildland urban interface.

Similarly, the report found that using woody biomass culled from public lands around the Bay Area could be used to fuel biopower plants that are generally cleaner than burning fossil fuels while also reducing fuel loads in forests and wildlands that contribute to bigger and more intense fires. But excessive permitting requirements for such plants make them extremely difficult, timely and costly to build.

The report offers nine key policy recommendations for improving coordination on forest management and wildfire prevention and response, empowering market-based solutions and removing onerous regulatory barriers, including:

Establishing and supporting local and regional working groups spanning multiple jurisdictions and agency boundaries that can pool resources, coordinate activities and gain economies of scale in harvesting woody biomass and working to build private markets for its commercial use.

Modify existing laws and regulations that create barriers to the extraction and sale of woody biomass and its byproducts from public lands within or adjacent to the wildland urban interface.

Through grants, regulatory reform, subsidies and other public policy levers, support nascent industries working to commercialize products developed using excess wood biomass at all levels.

Work to connect potential end-users and grow the market for various woody biomass products. For example, using biofuels in bus fleets and encouraging the use of sustainable aviation fuels to meet carbon reduction goals.

Read the full report>>

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